This was Rachmaninov's submission to Arensky's composition class at the Moscow conservatoire as part of his final examination. If my dates are right, he was 19 when he composed it in something like 3 weeks and that is comparable as a phenomenon to what Mendelssohn achieved at a similar age. I can recommend Aleko sincerely to anyone looking for an unfamiliar short romantic opera. The libretto is simple and effective, a tale of lost love, jealousy and murder based on Pushkin's The Gipsies. It's not Otello, but I would call it very good music indeed. I don't hear any of the knockout tunes such as I know from his concertos, but it's at an impressive level of inspiration and accomplishment, not least in its orchestration. The performance strikes me as excellent, Ilya Levinsky in particular as a boyish and ardent 'young gipsy' -- this must be the only opera where the tenor lead does not even have a name. In terms of style it is not particularly radical, but I wonder whether there was some influence from Carmen -- quite a lot of the music of either opera would remain in the form of songs and dances if they were given as stage plays. Of other influences I heard a definite touch of Swan Lake in the prelude, but otherwise not much Tchaikovsky but a fair amount of Borodin in the dances. It's fine old Russian tragic-romantic stuff, and I just loved the lovers' tryst (in Russian, of course) -
'Tell me, where shall we meet again?'
'There, beyond the mound, by the grave.' Where else, where else indeed? It made me yearn for the odd cigarette-factory.
The recorded sound is first-class.