Folklore and Literary Traditions in the Comic Opera by Catherine the Great

Although Catherine the Great’s plays attracted academic research, her opera komičeskajaFevei, Novgorodskoj bogatyr′ Boeslaevič, Xrabroj i smeloj vitjaz′ Axrideič (Ivan Carevič), and Gorebogatyr′ Kosometovič,—remain largely undiscussed, and in Simon Karlinsky’s Russian Drama from Its Beginning to the Age of Puškin (1985) they are only mentioned. They were written and beautifully staged in St. Petersburg and Carskoe Selo in 1786–89 with the pivotal participation of Catherine’s secretary M. V. Xrapovickij.

This analysis will draw from all four works and focus on Xrabroj i smeloj vitjaz′ Axrideič (Ivan Carevič) and Gorebogatyr′ Kosometovič. I will discuss the two sources of the text, namely the folklore tradition (including the genres of the epic, tale, and song), which constitutes their core and the influence of eighteenth-century poetry and drama (e.g. Vasilij Tred′jakovskij and Aleksandr Sumarokov). The question of co-authorship in Catherine’s plays will also be addressed.

Catherine’s comic operas were the first attempts to create literary tales/epics and stage them at imperial theaters. Their influence on literary tradition (e.g. Gavrila Deržavin, Ivan Krylov, etc.) and the development of performing arts in Russia should not be underestimated.