Dramatic Vocalise Database

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908)

Mlada (1892)

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) included dramatic vocalization in his “magical opera-ballet” Mlada (1892) composed to his own libretto, which was based on an earlier libretto by Viktor Alexandrovich Krilov. The premiere, conducted by Eduard Nápravník and choreographed by Lev Ivanov and Enrico Cecchetti, was staged at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, on 20 October 1892. The work was not successful, closing after the sixth performance.

The drama centers on the story of Voyslava, who in her passionate love for the young prince Yaromir, has killed Yaromir’s bride Mlada. Faithful to the memory of his beloved, Yaromir spurns her. Voyslava then pledges herself to Morena, goddess of the underworld, in the hope of gaining Yaromir’s affections through her assistance. During a festival that follows, the ghost of Mlada, assigned not to a singer but instead to a ballerina, appears between Voyslava and Yaromir, separating them; Yaromir rushes off after the ghost.

Following these events, at the beginning of act 3, and as the music progresses, Rimsky-Korsakov provides the following directions in the score:

At this point an offstage women’s chorus, indicated in the score as “Voix derrière la scène” [“voices behind the stage”] sing the vowel “A” on a D# diminished seventh chord over a pedal B in the orchestra, forming the upper members of a minor ninth chord.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Mlada, act 3, mm. 123–33 2

The souls of the deceased perform a “Ronde fantastique” followed by the offstage chorus, again singing the same material as before, but now a minor second higher in pitch.

The moon rises, revealing Mlada leading Yaromir up the mountainside. He begs her to admit him into the silent, ghostly world she now occupies. She tells him through a gesture that he first must endure a trial, and then disappears. The moon turns crimson, followed by a Witches’ Sabbath. An entourage of monsters and demons takes over the stage before a cock’s crow brings the orgy to a halt.

In the final act, set in a temple, ghosts of ancient heroes tell Yaromir that it was Voyslava who poisoned Mlada. She confesses her crime, trying to excuse it by her love for him, but he seizes her and runs her through with his sword. Voyslava calls on Morena to avenge her. The goddess commands storms and earthquakes to destroy the temple. When the storm subsides a rainbow appears, and the ghosts of Yaromir and Mlada are seen embracing atop the mountain.

It is surprising that a stage work such as Mlada, filled with supernatural entities and events throughout, includes dramatic vocalization only as a small component within the tone-poem opening of act 3. The inclusion of a Witches’ Sabbath, reminiscent of Etienne-Gaspard Robertson’s phantasmagoria shows in the early nineteenth century, and other similar imagery bring to mind the “Wolf’s Glen” scene in Weber’s Der Freischütz.

The influence of dramatic vocalization in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada can be seen in works of two of his students, Igor Stravinsky (Le rossignol) and Nikolay Tcherepnin (Narcisse et Echo).

(Nauman 2009, 194–97)



Mlada, Act 3 (opening)

Act 3 (excerpt)

Act 3 (opening)

Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Aleksandr Lazarev, conductor

Recorded in performance, June 1992, Bolshoi Theater, Moscow


1 Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Mlada (Leipzig: Belaèieff, 1891), 146–50.

2 Ibid., 150–51.