Russian Opera


Russia has produced some of the most powerful and memorable operas in the repertoire. In the mid-19th century, Russian composers, spurred on by nationalism, found a distinctive voice by incorporating elements of Russian, and even oriental, folk song as well as the modal scales of Orthodox chant.

Against the all-pervading background of German Romanticism, the first major composer to achieve this “Russian” sound was Glinka, known as the “father of Russian music”. His operas, A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lyudmila, were to be an inspiration to the next generation of composers, notably “The Five”, whose members included Mussorgsky (Boris Godunov; Khovanshchina) and Borodin (Prince Igor).

This course traces the development of Russian opera from these nationalist beginnings, through the operas of Tchaikovsky (Eugene Onegin; The Queen of Spades), Rimsky-Korsakov (The Snow Maiden; The Golden Cockerel) and Stravinsky (Oedipus Rex; The Rake’s Progress), through to the Soviet era.

In considering the operas of Prokofiev (The Love for Three Oranges; War and Peace) and Shostakovich (The Nose; Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) we will see just what a profound effect the Soviet régime had on artistic life in Russia.

No prior knowledge of music is required for this course.

Programme details

Courses starts: 25 Apr 2022

Week 0:  An Introduction to Teams – Course orientation

No session 2nd May 2022 due to UK Bank Holiday

Week 1: Music in mid-19th century Russia. Glinka: A Life for the Tsar

Week 2: Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmila. Borodin: Prince Igor

Week 3: The mighty handful and Russian nationalism. Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov

Week 4: Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina. Singer profile: Feodor Chaliapin

Week 5: The operas of Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin

Week 6: The operas of Tchaikovsky: The Queen of Spades 

Week 7: Rimsky-Korsakov: The Snow Maiden; The Golden Cockerel

Week 8: Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex; The Rake’s Progress

Week 9: Prokofiev: The Love for Three Oranges. Opera in Soviet Russia. Prokofiev: War and Peace

Week 10: Shostakovich: The Nose; Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £229.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Mr Jonathan Darnborough

Jonathan Darnborough is Director of Studies in Music and Departmental Lecturer in Music at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education.  He is a composer and pianist and has worked in continuing education throughout his career. He is the author of Oxford University’s first three online Music courses.

Course aims

To provide an overview of the origins and development of Russian opera.

Course Objectives:

  • To understand the origins of Russian opera, against the background of the dominant German Romanticism of the mid-19th century.
  • To study the effect of Russian nationalism on the composers of Russian opera.
  • To study, in detail, some of the masterpieces of Russian opera from Glinka to Shostakovich.

Teaching methods

The course will consist of pre-recorded lectures plus one hour of live online meeting per week. In the online meetings there will be some further development of the ideas presented in the pre-recorded lectures plus an opportunity for class discussions.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • have a broad understanding of the cultural background against which a recognisably Russian school of opera developed.
  • be able to identify some of the musical characteristics that distinguish Russian opera from that of Western Europe.
  • place each of the major composers of Russian opera in their cultural, social and political context.

Assessment methods

The assessment for this course will be by submission of either an essay at the end of the course (1,500 words) or a set of three mini-assignments during the course. If submitting the essay then an essay plan should be submitted beforehand. The essay or mini-assignments may be on any aspect of Russian opera covered in the course.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)