Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Matthew Baumer, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Stephanie Caulder, D.M.

Third Advisor

Sharon Franklin-Rahkonen, Ph.D.


Sergei Rachmaninoff’s reputation as a composer has never caught up to his tremendous fame as a pianist. While his piano works have been standard piano repertoire for decades, his symphonic works and songs remain somewhat at the margins and his operatic works have been largely neglected. While some of the operas garnered positive critical reaction at their premieres, these operas have not remained in the repertory and are rarely heard today. This thesis will explore the critical reception of these operas both at their premieres and in subsequent performances, suggest the aspects that ultimately made them unsuccessful, and analyze the impact of their reception on the unfinished opera, Monna Vanna. Rachmaninoff highly valued the work, but did not finish it because he was unable to secure the operatic rights to the play. After careful study of the manuscript, I have found that with Monna Vanna, that there is significant evidence of Rachmaninoff’s growth as an opera composer from his previous operas. After his first operatic project, Aleko, Rachmaninoff continually moved in the direction of operatic realism in his subsequent productions, following similar trends in Europe and Russia. Based on the criticism of The Miserly Knight and Francesca da Rimini, Rachmaninoff’s operatic realism was not well received, and he continued to develop it. Deeply impressed by hearing Strauss’s Salome in 1906, Rachmaninoff began to compose Monna Vanna. I argue that of all his operas, Monna Vanna comes closest to achieving the operatic realism that Strauss, in Rachmaninoff’s mind, perfected. Had Rachmaninoff finished Monna Vanna, it would likely have been a success that would have led to further productivity in the genre.