Every two years the international community is treated to the extravaganza of national pride that is the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games. The Russian ceremonies last Friday in Sochi especially focused on the history of the host nation, told through the dreams of a small girl (who was sometimes rather alarmingly suspended from the ceiling by wires). Russian literature and dance played a large part in the story, but it was the music that truly drove the program forward. With Russia’s rich musical traditions, there was no shortage of material to pull from, and the selection process must have been overwhelmingly difficult.
Music which did make the cut includes such quintessentially Russian pieces as the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s Prince Igor and Stravinsky’s ballets The Firebird and Rite of Spring. This year, the traditional Olympic symbol of doves was portrayed by bizarrely but beautifully lit dancers twirling to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
Difficult as the musical selection for the artistic portion of the evening must have been, the choice of singers must have been a piece of cake. Soprano Anna Netrebko, perhaps the most internationally recognizable Russian singer, performed the Olympic Hymn to round out the musical evening.
The renowned conductor Valery Gergiev also made an appearance at the opening ceremonies as one of several prominent Russian citizens bearing the Olympic flag.
In the spirit of the season, here are two other great pieces by Russian composers that didn’t quite make the cut for the opening ceremonies.
Here’s part of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition led by Valery Gergiev:
And something from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade: