Catherine the Great’s Influence on the Russian Opera Theatre Development and Paradox of Her Musical Ear: “Nothing More than Noise”?


In studies on the birth of Russian opera, the name of Catherine the Great is mentioned next to the first national playwrights’ and composers’ names. However, for a long time scholars primarily noted a negative nature of her acts that had been aimed at restricting freedom of thought and creativity in the field of musical theatre. Generally, there was a tendency to consider Catherine’s activities in itself, unrelated to her Enlightenment reforms. Such an approach certainly diminished her merits. As some historical sources reveal, the contribution of this tsarina in the national opera theatre development was much greater than commonly believed.

Moreover, the study of the correspondence, in particular, between the Russian monarch and Baron Melchior Grimm led the author to a conclusion: a myth that Catherine did not have an ear for music has no grounds. As some letters prove, contrary to what the ruler claimed, she did have musical abilities. Nevertheless, with regard to her public statements about music, the Empress preferred to remain silent, having apparently weighty reasons for that. The purpose of the present article is to make some revisions to previous years’ conclusions about this extraordinary person, who was one of the initiators of Russian Enlightenment.


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