Judith (Serov)
Judith is an opera in five acts, composed by Alexander Serov
Alexander Serov
Alexander Nikolayevich Serov – was a Russian composer and music critic. He and his wife Valentina were the parents of painter Valentin Serov...

 during 1861-1863. Derived from renditions of the story of Judith from the Old Testament Apocrypha
The term apocrypha is used with various meanings, including "hidden", "esoteric", "spurious", "of questionable authenticity", ancient Chinese "revealed texts and objects" and "Christian texts that are not canonical"....

, the Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

 libretto, though credited to the composer, has a complicated history (see below). The premiere took place in 1863 in Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

. This stage debut, supplemented with his next opera Rogneda
Rogneda (opera)
Rogneda is an opera in five acts, composed by Alexander Serov during 1863–1865. The scenario, by the composer, was based on the novel Askold's Grave by Mikhail Zagoskin and the poem Rogneda by Kondraty Ryleyev...

, made Serov the most important Russian opera composer of the 1860s.


Composition history

The Italian play Giuditta by Paolo Giacometti
Paolo Giacometti
Paolo Giacometti was an Italian dramatist born at Novi Ligure. He was educated in law at Genoa, but at the age of twenty had some success with his play Rosilda and then devoted himself to the stage...

, produced in Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 in 1860, first inspired the Serov to work on the project as a vehicle for the Italian opera troupe in Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

. Using Serov's scenario
A scenario is a synoptical collage of an event or series of actions and events. In the Commedia dell'arte it was an outline of entrances, exits, and action describing the plot of a play that was literally pinned to the back of the scenery...

, Ivan Antonovich Giustiniani wrote a libretto in Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

. When an Italian production of the proposed opera proved legally impossible, the Italian libretto was translated into Russian by Konstantin Zvantsov and Dmitry Lobanov, and some verses were added by the poet Apollon Maykov
Apollon Maykov
Apollon Nikolayevich Maykov was a Russian poet.He was born into the artistic family of Nikolay Apollonovich Maykov, a painter and an academic. In 1834 the family moved to Petersburg. In 1837-1841 Maykov studied law at Saint Petersburg University. At first he was attracted to painting, but he soon...

; in the meantime, the composer was writing the music without having the words ahead of time.

Performance history

St. Petersburg Premiere (World Premiere)
  • Date: 16 May 1863
  • Place: Mariinsky Theatre
    Mariinsky Theatre
    The Mariinsky Theatre is a historic theatre of opera and ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Opened in 1860, it became the preeminent music theatre of late 19th century Russia, where many of the stage masterpieces of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov received their premieres. The...

    , St. Petersburg
    Saint Petersburg
    Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

  • Conductor: Konstantin Lyadov
  • Performers: Mikhail Sariotti (Olofern), V. Bianki (Judith)

Moscow Premiere
  • Date: 1865
  • Place: Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow
    Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

  • Conductor: Shramek

Publication history

  • 1885, piano-vocal score, Gutheil, Moscow
  • 1903, full score, Belyayev
    Mitrofan Belyayev
    Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev was a Russian music publisher, outstanding philanthropist, and the owner of a large wood dealership enterprise in Russia. He was also the founder of the Belyayev circle, a society of musicians in Russia whose members included Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Glazunov...

    , Leipzig


Despite completely lacking in "Russian" subject matter as well as being not the first opera based on the story of Judith, Serov's setting has great significance for the history of Russian music. Besides its success with the public (enhanced by Fyodor Chaliapin's portrayal of Holofernes beginning in 1898), Serov's Judith influenced later Russian composers, including:
  • Tchaikovsky – The Maid of Orleans
    The Maid of Orleans
    The Maid of Orleans is an opera in 4 acts, 6 scenes, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It was composed during 1878–1879 to a Russian libretto by the composer, based on several sources: Friedrich Schiller’s The Maid of Orleans as translated by Vasily Zhukovsky; Jules Barbier’s Jeanne d’Arc ; Auguste...

  • Musorgsky
    Modest Mussorgsky
    Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was a Russian composer, one of the group known as 'The Five'. He was an innovator of Russian music in the romantic period...

     – the unfinished Salammbô
    Salammbô (Mussorgsky)
    Salammbô [alternative title: The Libyan ] is an unfinished opera in 4 acts by Modest Mussorgsky. The fragmentary Russian language libretto was written by the composer, and is based on the novel Salammbô by Gustave Flaubert , but includes verses taken from poems by Vasily Zhukovsky, Apollon Maykov,...

  • Borodin
    Alexander Borodin
    Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin was a Russian Romantic composer and chemist of Georgian–Russian parentage. He was a member of the group of composers called The Five , who were dedicated to producing a specifically Russian kind of art music...

     – Prince Igor
    Prince Igor
    Prince Igor is an opera in four acts with a prologue. It was composed by Alexander Borodin. The composer adapted the libretto from the East Slavic epic The Lay of Igor's Host, which recounts the campaign of Russian prince Igor Svyatoslavich against the invading Polovtsian tribes in 1185...

  • Rubinstein
    Anton Rubinstein
    Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein was a Russian-Jewish pianist, composer and conductor. As a pianist he was regarded as a rival of Franz Liszt, and he ranks amongst the great keyboard virtuosos...

     – his biblical operas

The Eastern element in Judith is most obvious in Acts III and IV; its influence (presaged by Glinka
Mikhail Glinka
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka , was the first Russian composer to gain wide recognition within his own country, and is often regarded as the father of Russian classical music...

 in Ruslan and Lyudmila) can be detected by comparing the Indian Song from Act IV with the "Song of the Indian Guest" from Rimsky-Korsakov's
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five.The Five, also known as The Mighty Handful or The Mighty Coterie, refers to a circle of composers who met in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the years 1856–1870: Mily Balakirev , César...

Sadko (opera)
Sadko is an opera in seven scenes by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The libretto was written by the composer, with assistance from Vladimir Belsky, Vladimir Stasov, and others. Rimsky-Korsakov was first inspired by the bylina of Sadko in 1867, when he completed a tone poem on the subject, his Op. 5...



  • Judith, an Israelite woman, widow of a Jewish warrior: soprano
    A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...

  • Avra, her slave: mezzo-soprano
    A mezzo-soprano is a type of classical female singing voice whose range lies between the soprano and the contralto singing voices, usually extending from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above...

  • Ozias, an elder of the city of Bethulia: bass
  • Charmis, an elder of the city of Bethulia: bass
  • Eliachim, Jewish high priest: bass
  • Achior, chief of the Ammonites, subjugated to Holofernes: tenor
  • Holofernes
    In the deuterocanonical Book of Judith Holofernes was an invading general of Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar dispatched Holofernes to take vengeance on the nations of the west that had withheld their assistance to his reign...

    , Assyrian commander: bass
  • Asfaneses, retainer of Holofernes: bass
  • Bagoas, head of Holofernes' harem: tenor
    The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...

  • 1st Odalisque
    An odalisque was a female slave in an Ottoman seraglio. She was an assistant or apprentice to the concubines and wives, and she might rise in status to become one of them...

    : soprano
  • 2nd Odalisque: mezzo-soprano
  • People, Jewish warriors, odalisques, Assyrian chiefs and warriors, feasters, male and female slaves of Holofernes


Time: The 6th Century B.C.
Place: In and around Bethulia
Bethulia Bethulia Bethulia (Hebrew: בתוליה; in Greek Betuloua, is a Biblical city whose deliverance by Judith, when besieged by Holofernes, forms the subject of the Book of Judith....

Act 1

At midday in a square in Bethulia, which is still under siege by Holofernes and his Assyrian troops, the people suffer from despair and thirst. The elders Ozias and Charmi report that all the roads are now cut off, and the last source of water has dried up. The high priest Eliachim, however, hopes for a miracle, but the people want to surrender the city to end their suffering. The elders ask them to wait five more days and nights; after that time, if God does not deliver them, the city will let the enemy in. Jewish warriors then come through the gates holding Achior. He tried to persuade Holofernes to stop the siege and follow the God of the Jews; as punishment, Holofernes had him bound and left near the city to share in the Jews' destruction by the Assyrians. Everyone then prays to God for deliverance.

Act 2

Judith, alone in her room, decides that, instead of waiting five days, something must be done now. She devises a plan to use the beauty God gave her get to trick Holofernes and save her people. To her summons the elders arrive. She expresses her pro-active intentions and asks for permission to go the enemy camp with her slave Avra. They grant permission and leave. When Avra then tries to talk her out of going to the camp, Judith remains steadfast.

Act 3

In Holofernes' camp, odalisques perform songs and dances. Holofernes sends them away, intent on his plan to make a full attack on Bethulia the next day. Judith is let into the camp and presented to Holofernes, who is enchanted by her beauty (as are all the Assyrians). When he inquires as to her purpose, she pretends that she will show him a secret way to enter and take Bethulia and Jerusalem as long as he allows her to move freely. Holofernes believes her ruse, even to the point of asking her to be queen. The camp then celebrates the power of Babylon.

Act 4

Dances and songs once more resound in the camp. Amidst praise of comely Judith, Asfaneses makes an unfortunate remark about her coldness, and is immediately stabbed to death by Holofernes. Just then Judith comes out and is horrified by the grisly act, but remains resolved in her plan. He informs her that the city will be attacked the next day. In a drunken stupor Holofernes falls to the ground unconscious at Judith's feet. After he is placed on his bed, she remains with him as everyone else leaves. Within the tent she takes his sword and decapitates him. After asking Avra to put the head into a sack, the two of them leave quickly.

Act 5

In Bethulia the people, awaiting the dawn of the sixth day, are ready to open the gates to the Assyrians, despite pleadings from the high priest. Suddenly Judith is heard outside the gates, and she shows them the head of Holofernes. The sounds of the fleeing Assyrian troops are confirmed by Ozias' report. All sing praise to God for answering their prayers.

Principal arias and numbers

  • Introduction (or Overture)
  • Judith's Monologue (Act II)
  • Holofernes' March (Entr'acte before Act III)
  • Dances (Act III)
  • Bacchic Dance of the Odalisques and Dance of the Two Almahs (Act IV)
  • Indian Song (Act IV)


  • 1991, Andrey Chistyakov (conductor), Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra, Russian Academic Choir of the USSR
    Sveshnikov State Academic Russian Choir
    The A. V. Sveshnikov State Academic Russian Choir is one of the principal choirs of Russia, founded in 1936 by Alexandr Sveshnikov as the choir of the USSR All-Union Radio with Sveshnikov as permanent director from 1941...

    , Irina Udalova (Judith), Yelena Zaremba (Avra), Mikhail Krutikov (Holofernes), Nikolay Vasilyev (Bagoas), Anatoly Babïkhin (Ozias), Vladimir Kudryachov (Achior), Stanislav Suleimanov (Asfaneses), Pyotr Gluboky (Eliachim), Maksim Mikhaylov (Charmis), Irina Zhurina
    Irina Zhurina
    -Biography:Zhurina was born in Kharkiv . After studying singing at the Kharkov Art Institute, she joined the Kharkov Opera in 1971, where she sang the leading roles in La Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Rigoletto, etc....

    and Marina Shutova (odalisques), Lev Kuznetsov (Hindu Song). Reissued Brilliant Classics 2011.

External links

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