His first opera ALEKO was written in 1892 as a graduation work at the Moscow Conservatory, created in just 17 days and it won the highest prizes from the conservatory judges that year. The chamber one-act lyrical-psychological opera is based on the libretto of the famous theater director, playwright and critic Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, and is an adaptation of the 1827 poem The Gypsies by Alexander Pushkin. It premiered on May 19th , 1893, on the stage of Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, and in October that same year Rachmaninoff conducted its production in Kiev. Tchaikovsky liked the opera very much and offered Rachmaninov to include it in a show together with his one-act “Yolanta” (instead of already presented ballet “The Nutcracker “) and arranged a performance at the Bolshoi Theater in December of that year, but due to Tchaikovsky’s untimely death that never happened.
A Pushkin centenary celebration performance on 27th May 1899 at the Tauride Palace in Saint Petersburg featured Feodor Chaliapin in the title role, and utilized the chorus and ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre.