Throughout typical to Russian folk songs, with subject

Throughout its history in Europe, opera has
capitalised on its social adaptability; an attribute which to an extent has
made its world immune to contemporary historical, social, economic, and political
issues .Opera’s hallowed status as a socially valued phenomenon enabled  the genre to communicate or perform a
relationship with the elites and the masses, the courts and the crowds, the
rulers and the citizens, the publics and the audiences.  Vlado Kotnik writes that  “…the production of opera has never been
about performing a musical work on stage only, but also about performing a
highly contested social arena”.1  This was most certainly the case with
mainland Europe. In  Russia,   operatic reception, however,  was more complex given the mixed audience of  Russian intelligentsia, aristocrats and upper-class
foreigners living in Saint Petersburg and Moscow.  Additionally, despite Alexander III being a
relatively liberal Tsar, censorship was still rife. This resulted in composers
having to be more subtle in their criticism. In both Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame, the composers are making
bold statements and observations about Russian society in general and at that
time.  In Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame in scene two, Liza’s friend
Pauline sings a melancholic folk song which utilises elements reminiscent of
popular Russian folk music. The vocal line and delivery of the first verse strongly
resembles the style of singing that was often sung in villages using a deep
chest singing voice. Pauline’s aria is given further “russified” folk  characterisation  by its long sweeping, minor melodic lines,
emotive delivery and lyrics that are typical to Russian folk songs, with  subject matters discussing  the changing seasons and feelings of longing.
It is discussion of the changing seasons which makes Pauline’s first aria
somewhat strange in its scene- setting – the drawing room of a privileged

1 Vlado Kotnik, ‘The Adaptability of Opera: When
Different Social Agents Come to Common Ground’,  International Review of the
Aesthetics and Sociology of Music,  44/2 (2013), p

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