Gliding Maidens, Leaping Lads & Wild Men

The exotic, exciting Polovtsian Dances form the best known scene in Borodin’s opera, Prince Igor. In this scene, the Russian Prince Igor has been taken prisoner by the Polovtsian chief, Khan Konchak. When the Khan sees his noble prisoner is feeling miserable, he orders his slaves to cheer him up with a performance. There are 3 main themes to the dances, which appear in various combinations:

Gliding Dance of the Maidens
The Dance of the Boys
Wild Dance of the Men

The entertainment begins with the Gliding Dance of the Maidens & tender memories of their homeland:

Fly away on the wings of the wind.
Fly away, our native song, to our homeland.
To where we sang you in liberty,
where you and we were so free.

There under the sultry sky
the air is full of bliss.
There to the murmuring of the sea
the mountains half slumber in the clouds.

With the entry of the Men and their Wild Dance, things start to heat up and the timpani ushers in unstinting praise for the Khan:

Sing songs of glory to the Khan! Sing!
Glorify the might, the honour of the Khan! Praise him!
Glorious is Khan! Khan!
Glorious is he, our Khan!
In the gleaming of his glory
Khan is like the sun.
There are none equal in glory to Khan! None!
Khan’s slave girls praise Khan!

Khan is clearly pleased with this and offers Prince Igor the choice of any of his slaves:

Do you see the captive girls from a distant sea?
Do you see my beauties from beyond the Caspian
O say it, friend, say just a word to me
If you want, I’ll give you any one of them!

Then with whistles and whip cracking on come the leaping lads and more praise for the Khan:

Our Khan, Khan Konehak, is equal in glory to his forefathers!
The grim Khan Konehak is equal in glory to his forefathers!
Glory, glory to Khan Konchak!
Khan Konehak!
With your dancing entertain the Khan!
Dance to entertain the Khan, slaves!
Your Khan!
With your dancing entertain the Khan!
Entertain with dancing!
Our Khan Konchak!

It’s hard to believe that even  Prince Igor would not be thrilled by the rousing performance, but he decides that enough is enough and he takes advantage of loose Polovtsian security and escapes. He returns home in triumph ready to unite his people & defend his homeland.

 

 

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