Sergei Prokofiev conceived the Stone Flower as a grand ballet in the tradition of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Originally, Prokofiev had a different subject in mind - Pushkin's The Stone Guest - but chose a national ballet following the infamous Zhdanov degree of 1948. However, Prokofiev had more than a passing interest in the story, set the Urals, as he had traveled in the area as a young man and had been impressed by the beauty of the mountains. The music was composed between 1948 and 1953. Prokofiev completed the orchestration just hours before his death. The premiere was held on February 12, 1954 by the Bolshoi Ballet.
The ballet takes its inspiration from folk tales by the Ural author Pavel Bazhov and centers on the stonecutter Danilo, who temporarily forsakes his betrothed, Katerina, to accompany the Mistress of Copper Mountain to her realm. There, the Mistress shows him a legendary flower made of stone. Danilo becomes determined to carve one like it in malachite, a deep green marble-like mineral native to Russia. In the meantime, Katarina is harassed by the story's villain, the drunken Severyan. To the rescue comes the Mistress of Copper Mountain, who captures him and compels the ground to open and swallow Severyan whole. Katarina searches for Danilo and finds him, but their reunion is spoiled when the Mistress becomes upset that he wants to leave the mountain paradise now that he has learned the secret of making the stone flower. Briefly, Danilo himself is turned to stone. In the end, however, Danilo gains the Mistress' respect through his love for and fidelity to Katarina, and the lovers depart to live happily ever after.
The Stone Flower has generally been neglected with few recordings of the complete ballet. The music is usually recorded in excerpts with the Ural Rhapsody from act three always being included as a highlight. The ballet has more of the divertissement dances of traditional full-length Russian ballets than Prokofiev included in Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, so there are memorable dances and more reworking of prior melodies. The ballet is very tuneful, with twenty or more memorable melodies. Some of the music was recycled from earlier Prokofiev works: the festive No. 7, Round Dance, is borrowed from the film score for Ivan the Terrible; Nos. 14, Katerina and Danilo, and 19, Waltz of the Diamonds, are sourced in Music for Children, for piano, Op. 65, (Nos. 11 and 6, respectively). Prokofiev's orchestration is colorful, sometimes exotic, particularly in the Russian and Gypsy dances.
I first heard the completed ballet in a recording conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, which is unfortunately no longer available. This recording by Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra brings out the rich lyrical melodies. His tempi are sometimes a bit slow as compared to the Rozhdestvensky but a good sense of melody is maintained. The Chandos sound quality is superb.