Searching for its typical and characteristic features, Russian opera (and Russian music as a whole), has often been under strong foreign influence. Italian, French, and German operas have served as examples, even when composers sought to introduce special, national elements into their work. This dualism, to a greater or lesser degree, has persisted throughout the whole history of Russian opera.
Opera came to Russia in the 18th century. At first there were Italian language operas presented by Italian opera troupes. Later some foreign composers serving to the Russian Imperial Court began writing Russian-language operas, while some Russian composers were involved into writing of the operas in Italian and French. And only at the beginning of the 1770s were the first modest attempts of the composers of Russian origin to compose operas to the Russian librettos made. This was not a real creation of Russian national opera per se, but rather a weak imitation of Italian, French or German examples. But nevertheless, these experiments were important, and paved the way for the great achievements of 19th and 20th centuries.
Originating in Italy in c1600, opera spread all over Europe and reached Russia in 1731, when the King of Poland and Elector of Saxony August II the Strong (based in Dresden) 'loaned' his Italian opera troupe to the Russian Empress Anna for the celebration of her coronation in Moscow.
The first opera shown in Russia was Calandro by Giovanni Alberto Ristori (1692–1753). It was given in Moscow in 1731 under his and his father Tommaso Ristori’s direction, with 13 actors and nine singers including Ludovica Seyfried, Margherita Ermini and Rosalia Fantasia.
After that Italian opera troupes were welcomed to Russia for the entertaining of the Empress and her Court.In 1735 a big Italian opera troupe led by a composer Francesco Araja was invited for the first time to work in Saint Petersburg. The first opera given by them was Araja’s La forza dell'amore e dell'odio, with a text by Francesco Prata, staged on February 8 , 1736 as Sila lyubvi i nenavisti (The Power of Love and Hatred). Araja’s next two productions were the operas seria Il finto Nino, overo La Semiramide riconosciuta to the text by Francesco Silvani given on February 9, 1737 , Saint Petersburg and Artaserse to the text by Pietro Metastasio, performed on February 9, 1738 in Saint Petersburg. Araja spent around 25 year in Russia and wrote at least 14 operas for the Russian Court.
In 1742, in connection witho the celebration of the coronation of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna in Moscow the opera Tito Vespasiano by Johann Adolf Hasse (1699–1783) was staged. A new theatre was built especially for this event. In 1743 at "Zimnij Dvorets", the (Winter Palace) in Saint Petersburg, instead of a small hall of "Comedie et opere" was built a new Opera House (architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli) that held about a thousand persons.