Overture to Colas Breugnon

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            Kabalevsky is perhaps best known to American audiences for his irrepressible orchestral classic, the Comedians' Galop.   While the Russian “heavyweights” of the twentieth century were Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Kabalevsky is known for his accessible, cheerful, and popular musical style.   His natural affinity for composing music well founded in traditional means was a distinct advantage for him, living as he did under severe Stalinist artistic restrictions.   Art in the Soviet Union was required to reflect the common people and their virtues, and Kabalevsky responded with apparent alacrity.

            Colas Breugnon, finished in 1938, was his first opera, and remains one of his best-known works.  The story derives from a novel by the eminent French writer, Romain Rolland (1866-1944), winner of the 1915 Nobel Prize in Literature.  Rolland was a gifted writer in many fields, and is known especially for his works on music, as well as his efforts in general humanitarian and pacifist endeavors.  Invited by Maxim Gorky to Moscow in 1935 to meet his hero, Joseph Stalin, Rolland was a natural choice for Kabalevsky to provide “politically correct” material.  Rolland was fascinated with his own roots in ancient French history and culture, and conceived this cheeky, irreverent plot of a sixteenth-century sculptor’s escapades with a villainous Duke.  Owing to an outbreak of the bubonic plague, the Duke orders everything in the village burned, including Colas’ statues.  Colas exacts his revenge, executing a commission for a heroic statue of the Duke by depicting him sitting backward astride an ass.   The gaiety and vivacity of Kabalevsky’s comic opera is totally reflected in the charming overture.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan