The semiotics of symmetry, or Rimsky-Korsakov's operatic history lesson
By Simon Morrison for Elena Strona - November 2001
Abstract: Rimsky-Korsakov dwelled at length on his place in music history. His musings informed his creative processes, notably his handling of operatic time and space relationships. His stage works rely on structural and syntactic reflection rather than patterns of cause and effect for cohesion. This article examines the narrative contents of Sadko (1896), a setting of the merchant tale "Sadko the Rich Trader" that follows the contours of the Orpheus parable. The analysis, focusing on the mirror relationships between Russians and non-Russians, indicates that the composer conceived the score as a parody of nationalism and orientalism. In depicting self as other and other as self, Sadko also demonstrates the inherent universality, rather than the inherent Russianness, of Rimsky-Korsakov's music.