Anton Rubinstein – The Demon Opera – Music | History
Demon is an opera in three acts (six scenes) by Russian composer Anton Rubinstein. The work was composed in 1871. The libretto was by Pavel Viskovatov, based on the poem of the same name by Mikhail Lermontov.
Lermontov’s poem was banned as sacrilegious until 1860. Its popularity and its lurid story made it an excellent candidate for an opera libretto, and Rubinstein himself worked out the scenario from which Viskovatov produced the final text. The opera was premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, on 25 January [O.S. 13 January] 1875, conducted by Eduard Nápravník. The stage design was by Mikhayil Bocharov, Matvey Shishkov, and Lagorio. The Moscow premiere was in 1879 at the Bolshoi Theatre, conducted by Enrico Bevignani.
The opera was published by V. Bessel and Co., St. Petersburg, in 1876. A further edition was in 1968 by Muzgiz, Moscow.
Rubinstein invited several musicians of the group known as The Five, including César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, as well as the critic Vladimir Stasov to a private hearing of the opera in September 1871, where the guests did not regard the work favourably. However, melodic motifs from The Demon inspired comparable motifs in Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
The opera received 100 performances in the first decade following its premiere. Its first performance in Paris was in May 1911, where the critics considered the opera to be old-fashioned.
Whilst it is still quite frequently performed in Russia, the opera has become a rarity in the West.
Demon was performed in a semi-staged version at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow in 2015 with Dmitry Hvorostovsky in the title role and Asmik Grigoryan as Tamara. The performance was directed by Dmitry Bertman of Helikon Opera and broadcast live on Russian television. The final scene of the opera also appears on his 2016 CD Dmitri Hvorostovsky Sings of Love, Peace, War and Sorrow. A fully staged production of the opera, also directed by Bertman, was performed in the original Russian at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona in April–May 2018. The Liceu production was originally intended for Hvorostovsky, who died from a brain tumor in 2017. In his stead the role of the Demon was taken the Latvian bass-baritone Egils Siliņš.