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Representation of Clytemnestra and Cassandra in Taneyev's Oresteia

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Sergei Taneyev (18561915) was a Muscovite, a piano virtuoso, music theorist, composer, and pedagogue. He was a pupil and later a close friend of Tchaikovsky, and a teacher of Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Medtner, Glier and Gretchaninov, among a host of other Russian composers. Taneyev was also known for his passionate interest in Greek antiquity, in the early music of the Netherlands, and in counterpoint. The choice for the subject of his one and only opera Oresteia (1894),1 based on the eponymous tragedy by Aeschylus, perplexed its critics and audiences.2 While Aeschylus made a number of changes in his The Oresteia that challenged the established perception of its characters, Taneyev's changes and additions were necessary in order to combat his listeners' lack of familiarity with the tragedy and its storyline. This article concentrates on Taneyev's treatment of women's roles and explores the ways in which Taneyev's Clytemnestra and Cassandra are similar to, and different from their counterparts in the original source. The important changes and additions made by Taneyev are analysed and set in the context of the nineteenth-century Russian operatic scene.

1The title of Aeschylus' The Oresteia appears in Russian as Oresteia, because the definite article does not exist in Russian. This article will therefore refer to Taneyev's opera as Oresteia, and the original work of Aeschylus as The Oresteia.

2For a detailed discussion of antiquity in Russian literature, music and art, see Korabelnikova 1986: 101109, and Korabelnikova 1979: 8392.

Keywords: Aeschylus; Cassandra; Clytemnestra; Oresteia; Taneyev

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Leeds.

Publication date: June 5, 2008

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  • Studies in Musical Theatre is a refereed journal which considers areas of live performance that use vocal and instrumental music in conjunction with theatrical performance as a principal part of their expressive language.
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