Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Yo!! That's Some Golden [And Diamond-Studded] Cockerel!!

"A rare enamel-and-gold Faberge egg that had been in the Rothschild banking family for more than a century sold for record-setting $18.5 million at auction Wednesday.

The sale of the translucent pink egg topped with a diamond-studded cockerel was a record for a Faberge work of art, Christie's auction house said.

The price also broke the record for Russian artwork, excluding paintings, easily beating the $9.6 million paid for a Faberge egg in New York in 2002, Christie's said.

Russian Czar Alexander III commissioned the first of the elaborate eggs from craftsman Peter Carl Faberge as an Easter gift for his wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna.

The empress was so enamored of that 1885 piece -- an enameled egg with a golden yoke, golden hen, miniature diamond crown and ruby egg inside -- that the czar commissioned a new egg every Easter.

After the czar died in 1894, his son Nicholas continued the tradition until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Nicholas and his family were executed in 1918.

Faberge created more than 50 eggs for Russia's imperial family, though not all survive....

The piece was sold to a private Russian bidder after 10 minutes of bidding, Christie's said."

Associated Press "Rare Faberge Egg Sells for $18.5 Million" New York Times November 28, 2007


Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov The Golden Cockerel (Russian: Золотой Петушок, Zolotoy Petushok)

The opera was completed in 1907, and received its premiere in Moscow in 1909 [where I saw it in March 2003 at the Moscow Bolshoi Chamber Opera Theater, in a wonderful, traditional gold on black production from Saint Petersburg].

Act 1

The bumbling King Dodon talks himself into believing that his country is in danger from the neighbouring State governed by the beautiful Queen of Shemakha. He asks for advice from a mysterious Astrologer, who gives him a magic Golden Cockerel, which promises to look after his interests. The Golden Cockerel confirms that Queen of Shemakha certainly has some territorial ambitions, so King Dodon foolishly decides to make a pre-emptive strike against the neighbouring State, and sends his army, led by his two sons, to start the battle.

Act 2

However, his sons are both so inept that they manage to kill each other on the battlefield. King Dodon then decides to lead the army himself, but further bloodshed is averted because the Golden Cockerel ensures that the old king becomes besotted when he actually sees the beautiful Queen. The Queen herself encourages this situation by performing a seductive dance - which tempts the King to try and partner her, but he is clumsy and makes a complete mess of it. The Queen realises that she can take over Dodon’s country without further fighting - she engineers a marriage proposal from Dodon, which she coyly accepts.

Act 3

The final scene starts with the great Bridal procession in all its splendour - and when this is reaching its conclusion, the Astrologer appears and says to the king “You promised me anything I could ask for if there could be a happy resolution of your troubles.......” “Yes, Yes,” said the king, “Just name it and you shall have it”. “Right,” said the Astrologer, “I want Queen of Shemakha!”. At this, the King flares up in fury, and strikes down the Astrologer with a blow from his mace. The Golden Cockerel, loyal to his Astrologer master, then swoops across and pecks through the King’s jugular.

Principal arias and numbers

Act 1

Introduction: "I am a sorceror" «Я колдун» (Orchestra, Astrologer)
Lullaby (Orchestra, Guards, Amelfa)

Act 2

Aria: "Hymn to the Sun" «Ответь мне, зоркое светило» (Shemakhan Tsaritsa)
Dance (Shemakhan Tsaritsa, Orchestra)
Chorus (Slaves)

Act 3

Scene: "Wedding Procession" «Свадебное шествие» (Amelfa, People)


"Music scholar Gerald Abraham, after going at some length to reconcile Rimsky-Korsakov's lack of religious convictions with the composition of his Christian-themed opera The Invisible City of Kitezh, finally admits, "We know that Rimsky-Korsakov was a religious sceptic." (Abraham, Gerald (1936). "XIII.-- Kitezh", Studies in Russian Music (in English). London: William Reeves / The New Temple Press, p.288. ) In his article on the composer in The New Grove Russian Masters, Abraham repeats that Rimsky-Korsakov was a non-believer who, nevertheless, could write music on religious themes. "This duality in Rimsky-Korsakov's musical style is matched by strange contradictions in his personality: although cool and objective to an unusual degree, a religious sceptic, he not only delighted in depicting religious ceremonies but was capable of total surrender to the nature-mysticism which possessed him during the composition of Snow Maiden." (Abraham, Gerald (1986). "Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov", The New Grove Russian Masters 2 (in English). New York: W.W. Norton and Company, p.27.)

According to Russian-music scholar Simon Morrison, "Andrei Beliy [author of Petersburg] apparently planned but did not undertake another novel, called Invisible City (Nevidimiy grad), which was to be based on the ancient Slavonic chronicle about Kitezh. That task was accomplished by another prominent artist of the Silver Age, the composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who was a positivist, not an idealist, and who feuded with his Symbolist colleagues. Moreover, he was an atheist who complained to his friends that institutionalized religion had become corrupt and hypocritical, since, in his estimation, doctrine promoted exclusion. Rimsky-Korsakov's attitude disturbed Lev Tolstoy, who had abandoned art for religion late in life and encouraged the composer to do the same. On 11 January 1898, the two held a casual debate about religious matters at the writer's home. It concluded in an awkward stalemate, and despite Rimsky-Korsakov's profuse apologies, Tolstoy described the evening caustically as a "face-to-face" encounter with "gloom." Irrespective of the composer's anti-religious outlook, however, in his 1905 opera The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya (Skazaniye o nevidimom grade Kitezhe i deve Fevronii), he explored themes of spiritual conversion and salvation." Simon concludes, "His decision at the end of his career to set a centuries-old tale of spiritual salvation using the music of centuries-old composers attested to his fervent belief that art-- especially musical art-- was in and of itself a kind of miracle."(Morrison, Simon (2002). "2. Rimsky-Korsakov and Religious Syncretism", Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement (in English). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, p.116-117, 168-169."


In his decades at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, Rimsky-Korsakov taught many composers who would later find fame, including Alexander Glazunov, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, and Ottorino Respighi.

Text source: Wikipedia.

The artwork under discussion...


English: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov grave in Tikhvin Cemetery.
Русский: Могила Н. Римского-Корсакова на Тихвинском кладбище.

[Click on image for enlargement.]

Photo credits: Christie's via Bloomberg News and (c) Andrey “A.I.” Sitnik. Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation. 2007 [September 16]. All rights reserved. With thanks. Via Wikimedia Commons.


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