OP2866. THE POWER OF THE FIEND (Serov), recorded 1952, w.Kondrashin Cond. Alexei Ivanov, Natalia Sokolova, Elizaveta Antonova, Veronika Borisenko, Veniamin Shevtsov, etc.; THE POWER OF THE FIEND; JUDITH (both Serov), w.Burlak, Petrov, Shukhat, Klescheva, Kazantseva & Alexandriyskaya – recorded 1947-48. (Russia) 2-Aquarius AQVR 372. - 4607123631379
“THE POWER OF THE FIEND (The Hostile Power, The Fiendish Power, The Malevolent Power, The Power of Evil, Satan, etc.) is an opera in five acts by Alexander Serov, composed during 1867-1871. The libretto is derived from a comedy by Alexander Ostrovsky from 1854 entitled LIVE NOT AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO, BUT AS GOD COMMANDS. The opera was premiered posthumously in 1871 at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg under Eduard Nápravník. Among the performers were Darya Leonova as Spiridonovna and Mikhail Sariotti as Yeryomka. Although in many ways it is more far-reaching than Serov's previous two operas, this work was not a success, although the great bass Feodor Chaliapin would often perform Eremka's Song from the opera.”
"Sokolova has a powerful soprano with a well-supported lower register and considerable projective power."
- Jonathan Wolff
“Alexander Nikolayevich Serov was a Russian composer and music critic. He is notable as one of the most important music critics in Russia during the 1850s and 1860s and as the most significant Russian composer of opera in the period between Dargomyzhsky's RUSALKA and the early operas by Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky. In Russia, he became the member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences. He became a friend of Vladimir Stasov who eventually became a famous art critic.
Serov completed his studies in 1840 and started working as a lawyer. Eventually, his interest in music prevailed, and in 1850 he quit his job and began to compose music and to write articles. His was also giving music lectures which were quite popular. In particular, he introduced a variety of music terms into Russian language. Additionally, he first started to use the term ‘simfonizm’ which eventually gained international significance. In 1863, Alexander Serov married his student Valentina Bergman. In 1871, he unexpectedly died of a heart attack. His widow finished his last opera [THE POWER OF THE FIEND] and published his articles.
As composer, Serov is notable for composing operas. His first opera, JUDITH, was first performed in 1863. Although Serov's operas JUDITH and ROGNEDA were quite successful at the time, none of his operas is frequently performed today.
Whereas Serov was an acclaimed critic and composer, his relation with fellow intellectuals were sometimes far from ideal. For example, he and Stasov became enemies over the relative values of Glinka's two operas. Serov's admiration for Richard Wagner likewise did not endear him to The Mighty Handful, the principal group of Russian composers, mainly due to efforts of the younger competing critic César Cui, who, like Stasov, had been on better terms with Serov earlier. It was not until 1860 that Serov, now aged 40, decided to put his vast stock of musical erudition and his cherished Wagnerian theories into practice by actually writing an opera himself. Ironically, the subject Serov settled on - the Biblical story of JUDITH AND HOLOFERNES - was initially conceived as an opera in Italian for a famous soprano who was then engaged in Saint Petersburg. It was only after this prima donna refused to take part that Serov recast it as a Russian opera. Just before rehearsals started for the premičre of JUDITH at the Mariinsky Theatre, Serov was overjoyed at the arrival of Wagner in Saint Petersburg 1863 to conduct a series of concerts. Serov greeted the arrival of his revered 'master' in Russia with a number of enthusiastic articles. The subject of Serov's next opera, ROGNEDA, which deals with the legendary world of pagan Russia, was suggested to him by the poet Yakov Polonsky. It was again packed with spectacular Grand Opera elements, wholly belying Serov's Wagnerian ideals, and, when it was premičred at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg in 1865, it proved to be an even more resounding success than JUDITH two years earlier. For his last opera, THE POWER OF THE FIEND, Serov initially collaborated with the dramatist Aleksandr Ostrovsky, but soon the two men quarreled. It was a very ambitious and original work, and some scholars (notably Richard Taruskin) have defended it as Serov's finest achievement for its integration of Russian everyday life with music drama in a canvas of unprecedented realism.
As a Russian composer and critic Serov succeeded in being remembered in the annals of musicology for his ascerbic pen and lasting influence on the music of later composers in his homeland. Though his critiques could be taken seriously, perhaps they should not for if Serov was at odds with someone for anything, their music was rapined with a sharpened foil. If he happened to meet a composer, which was a splendid pleasure for him as was the case with both Liszt and Wagner, he could not help but sing their praises loudly and vociferously. Serov had a very narrow opinion when it came to his criticism of composers and often, as described above, weighted his decisions based on personal biases. Though not a prolific composer or even a very talented one two of Serov's operas have had a lasting impression: JUDITH and ROGNEDA. The crowd scenes in JUDITH, which received seventy performances between 1865 and 1870, inspired Mussorgsky's crowd scenes and the Russian folk opera ROGNEDA influenced Mussorgsky through its dramatic import. Dance music within both of the operas influenced Tchaikovsky's ballet music and the folk melodies and textures were imitated if not quoted by Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Balakirev."
- Keith Johnson, Rovi