The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya

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The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya (Russian: Сказание о невидимом граде Китеже и деве Февронии, Skazaniye o nevidimom grade Kitezhe i deve Fevronii) is an opera in four acts by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The libretto was written by Vladimir Belsky, and is based on a combination of two Russian legends: that of St. Fevroniya of Murom, and the city of Kitezh, which became invisible when attacked by the Tatars. The opera was completed in 1905, and the premiere performance took place at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, on February 7, 1907.

Composition history[edit]

Rimsky-Korsakov and Belsky first became interested in writing an opera on the Kitezh legend during the winter of 1898-1899, while they were working on the libretto to The Tale of Tsar Saltan. The idea of combining the legend of St. Fevroniya into the story was part of the project from the beginning.[1] The project remained in the minds of both composer and the librettist, but would have to wait until 1903 until serious work could begin. During the period between 1898 and the beginning of 1903, the composer was occupied with the composition of the operas The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Servilia, Kashchey the Immortal and Pan Voyevoda.[2] In his My Musical Life, Rimsky-Korsakov mentions "In the midst of work on Pan Voyevoda Belsky and I pondered intensively the subject of The Tale of the Invisible City of Kityezh and of the Maiden Fyevroniya."[3] Rimsky-Korsakov had written a rough draft of the first act by the end of summer, and Belsky had completed the libretto by spring.[3] By summer of 1904, Rimsky-Korsakov had finished the composition of the second tableau of Act III and was orchestrating the opera.[4] During the summer of 1905, while writing his Principles of Orchestration, Rimsky-Korsakov also polished the orchestral score to Kitezh, and made a clean final copy to send to the printers.[5]

Performance history[edit]

The world premiere was given in Saint Petersburg, Russia at the Mariinsky Theatre on 20 February (O.S. 7 February), 1907. The scenic designers were Konstantin Korovin and Apollinary Vasnetsov. A year later, the opera was given its premiere at the Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow, Russia on 15 February 1908. Scenic designers were Korovin, Klodt, Vasnetsov.[6] The first performance out of Russia took place at Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu, February 1926. In South America it was premiered at Buenos Aires's Teatro Colón in 1929. Earl V. Moore led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the U.S. premiere on May 21, 1932, at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere cast
St Petersburg
20 February 1907
(Conductor: Feliks Blumenfeld)
Premiere cast
Moscow
15 February 1908
(Conductor: Vyacheslav Suk)
Prince Yuriy Vsevolodovich bass Ivan Filippov Vasily Rodionovich Petrov
Prince Vsevolod Yuryevich tenor Andrey Labinsky Nikolay Rostovsky
Fevroniya soprano Maria Kuznetsova-Benois Nadezda Salina
Grishka Kuterma tenor Ivan Yershov Anton Bonachich
Fyodor Poyarok baritone Vasiliy Sharonov Georges Baklanoff
Page mezzo-soprano Maria Markovich Elizaveta Azerskaya
Gusli player bass Vladimir Kastorsky
Bear handler tenor Grigoriy Ugrinovich
Lead-singer baritone Nikolay Markevitch
Bedyay, a mighty Tatar warrior (might have Subutai as a prototype[7] ) bass Ivan Grigorovich Khristofor Tolkachev
Burunday, a mighty Tatar warrior (might have Boroldai as a prototype[7]) bass Konstantin Serebryakov Stepan Trezvinsky
Sirin, bird of paradise soprano Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel
Alkonost, bird of paradise contralto Yevgeniya Zbruyeva Serafima Sinitsina
Chorus, Silent roles: Well-off people, beggar community, people, Tatars

Source:[8]

Critical analysis[edit]

Kitezh is arguably Rimsky-Korsakov's finest opera, often being referred to as "the Russian Parsifal";[9] however, it is not part of the standard operatic repertoire outside of Russia. Stylistically, it is more representative of Rimsky-Korsakov's work than the better-known The Golden Cockerel.[10] In its use of Russian history and legend, Oriental exoticism, and a mix of the real and the supernatural, the work has been called a "summation of the nationalistic operatic tradition of Glinka and The Five."[11] Rimsky-Korsakov considered the work to be his final artistic statement,[12] not planning to write another opera until unexpectedly inspired to write The Golden Cockerel as a satire of current political events in Russia. Rimsky-Korsakov was an atheist, and, though he often made use of fairy-tale, Kitezh was the only one of his operas to make use of supernatural or religious themes.[13] Simon Morrison points out that in spite of the Christian themes,"[t]his was a secular heaven."[14]

Synopsis[edit]

Time: Summer of the 6751st year of the creation of the world

Place: Unspecified location beyond the Volga River

Prelude[edit]

'Hymn to the Wilderness', an orchestral depiction of the scenery of forest wilderness./---------

Act 1[edit]

Kerzhenskii Woods
These wild forests with dense thickets and bogs are the home of Fevronia (and her "brother", a tree creeper), who lives in a hut. She is besotted with dreams and poetical fancies, and is a daughter of nature, being on friendly terms with the birds and wild animals, and knowing all the mysteries of the forest. One day she meets a young prince in the forest, who has been hunting and has lost his way. He is Vsevolod, son of Prince Yuri of Kitezh, and he falls for her beauty, spiritual integrity and love of people and of nature. They sing a love duet, in which he places a ring on her finger, but this is interrupted by the sound of the hunting party from afar. He bids her farewell and goes to find the party, while she learns to whom she has become betrothed.

Act 2[edit]

Little Kitezh

Little Kitezh on the Volga
Holiday festivities are going on in the market place in this place, because the wedding procession of Princess Fevronia is expected to come through. The people crowd around the buffoon and laugh at the bear's antics. An old psaltery-player comes and sings a solemn song. The rich townsfolk, who think Prince Vsevolod should have married a girl with better family connections, persuade Grishka Kuterma (the local drunkard) to mock the princess. The procession approaches to the sound of bells, and (in an old custom) the wedding guests throw honey-cakes, ribbons and coins into the crowd as the bride's 'ransom'. The people chase away Grishka and the procession takes up a wedding song.

Suddenly the merrymaking is interrupted as the town is surrounded by an army of invading Tatars. There is a sorrowful lamenting chorus of the people. Fevronia is captured by the Tatars and is racked by anxiety for the fate of her bridegroom and the city of Greater Kitezh, which the Tatars will attack next. But Grishka agrees to betray Russia and to lead the Tatars to the city, while Fevronia prays that it be rendered invisible.

Act 3[edit]

Scene 1 - Great Kitezh
Hearing of the invasion, the people of Greater Kitezh gather in the main square in arms, in dead of night. The prince's huntsman Fyodor Poyarok, whom the Tatars have blinded, tells them of the atrocities committed at Little Kitezh. A boy announces that the Tatars approach. The people prepare for battle, and the Prince leads a battalion which sings a chorus of resolution to fight to the end. Then, a golden fog rises over the Lake and shrouds the city, hiding it from the enemy: only the church bells drone faintly. But a fierce battle breaks out on the banks of the river Kherzhenets. A symphonic interlude, composed around the battle-song theme and another representing the Tatar hordes, depicts the grim scene, and introduces:

Scene 2 - At the lake Svetlyi Iar
After a long trek through the wilderness, Grishka has led the Tatars to the edge of the lake. Unable to see the city for the fog, the Tatars accuse him of treachery and tie him to a tree, intending to kill him in the morning. They make fires and share out their loot. Two of the Tatar leaders, Burundai and Bedyai, quarrel over Fevronia and Bedyai is slain. The Tatars, preparing for night, sing a dismal song about ravens flocking to carnage. They sleep, and Fevronia is heard mourning Vsevolod, who has fallen in battle. Grishka, tormented by fear and remorse, begs her to release him, and she does so believing that kindness will heal his soul. But he is haunted by nightmares, in which the chimes of the Kitezh bells become distorted in his brain. He rushes to drown himself, but stops at the shore as the dawn shows that while the city remains invisible, the reflection of the city can be seen in the water, and the bells ring out ever louder. The Tatars are stricken with fear by the sight and disperse.

Act 4[edit]

The Invisible City

Scene 1 - Kerzhenskii Woods
In pitch darkness Fevronia and Grishka, exhausted, struggle through the wilderness. Grishka is delirious, and after singing a song about the devil and dancing wildly he runs off screaming. Fevronia is lulled to sleep by the sounds of the forest. In her dream the scene is transformed, with fantastic blossoming flowers, candles in the trees, and fairy songbirds. The mythical bird of sorrow, Alkonost, appears to tell her she must die. She welcomes death, and her prince appears to lead her to Kitezh. A second bird, Sirin, promises immortality. The enchantment comes out irresistibly in the Symphonic Interlude leading to:

Scene 2 - The Invisible City
The scene is in the legendary city of beautiful people with gracious hearts. Fevronia and Vsevolod, Prince Yuri and Fyodor Poyarok all reappear. Fevronia sends a message of hope to Grishka, telling him that one day he too will find the way to the Invisible City. Vsevolod leads his bride to the altar with wedding songs, and a Hymn of Joy, as a solemn chorus, ends the opera. Good, Love and Justice are victorious.

Principal arias and numbers[edit]

Introduction: "Paean to the wilderness", «Похвала пустыне»

Act 1

Song: "Oh, my forest, beautiful wilderness" «Ах ты лес, мой лес, пустыня прекрасная» (Fevroniya)

Act 3

Entr'acte: "The Battle of Kerzhenets", «Сеча при Керженце»

Act 4

Entr'acte: "Walking in the Invisible City" «Хождение в невидимый град»

Recordings[edit]

Audio Recordings:

  • 1955, Samuel Samosud (conductor) Choir and orchestra of the All-Union Radio. Alexander Vedernikov (Prince Yury), Vladimir Ivanovsky (Prince Vsevolod), Natalya Rozhdestvenskaya (Fevroniya), Dmitri Tarkhov (Grishka Kutyerma), Ilya Bogdanov (Fyodor Poyarok), Boris Dobrin (Balladeer), Lidia Melnikova (Youth), Leonid Ktitorov (Bedyay), Sergey Krasovsky (Burundai), Nina Kulagina (Alkonost).[15]
  • 1956, Vassili Nebolsin (conductor), Moscow Radio and Chorus, Ivan Petrov (Prince Yury), Vladimir Ivanovsky (Prince Vsevolod), Natalya Rozhdestvenskaya (Fevroniya), Dmitri Tarkhov (Grishka Kutyerma), Ilya Bogdanov (Fyodor Poyarok), Boris Dobrin (Balladeer), L. Melnikova (Youth), V. Shevtsov (Merchant I), Sergei Koltipin (Merchant II), Tikhon Chernyakov (Bear Handler), Mikhail Skazin (Beggar), Leonid Ktitorov (Bedyay), Boris Dobrin (Bard), Gennady Troitzky (Burundai), Mariya Zvenzdina (Sirin), Nina Kulagina (Alkonost). (USSR MK LPs set ТУ35, XП558-63, Д06489-Д06496).[16]
  • 2010, Alexander Vedernikov (conductor), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Mikhail Kazakov (Prince Yury),Vitaly Panfilov (Prince Vsevolod), Tatiana Monogarova (Fevroniya), Mikhail Gubsky (Grishka Kutyerma), Gevorg Hakobyan (Fyodor Poyarok), Alexander Naumenko (Burunday), Valery Gilmanov (Bedyay).Live performance, May,2008.( Naxos Records).

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Rimsky-Korsakoff, Nikolay Andreyevich; Judah A. Joffe (Translated from the revised second Russian edition) (1936) [1923]. "Chapter XXV; 1897-99". In Carl Van Vechten. My Musical Life (New Edition, Second Printing ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. p. 320. "During the winter I often saw V.I. Byel'ski, and, together with him, worked up Pushkin's Fairy-tale of Tsar Saltan as a subject for an opera. Our interest was also attracted by the legend of Fyevroniya of Moorom..." 
  2. ^ Foreword in Rimsky-Korsakov, Nicolai; Vladimir Ivanovich Belsky (libretto); Harlow Robinson (English version) (1984). The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia: An Opera in Four Acts; Vocal Score. The Complete Works of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (in Russian & English). Melville, N.Y.: Belwin Mills Publishing Corp. pp. iii–iv. K5265. 
  3. ^ a b Rimsky-Korsakoff. My Musical Life, p.340.
  4. ^ Rimsky-Korsakoff. My Musical Life, p.342.
  5. ^ Rimsky-Korsakoff. My Musical Life, p.348.
  6. ^ Театральная Энциклопедия (Theatrical Encyclopedia published by Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya)
  7. ^ a b Pochekayev, Roman. Батый. Хан, который не был ханом. ISBN 978-5-17-038377-1. 
  8. ^ 100 Опер, Издательство «Музыка», Ленинград
  9. ^ "Opera (Russian Opera)". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-06-07. "His finest opera may be “the Russian Parsifal,” Skazaniye o nevidimom grade Kitezhe i deve Fevroni (1907; “The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh,” libretto by Vladimir Ivanovich), a work of marked emotional strength." 
  10. ^ Harvey, Caroline (2005). "4. Words and actions: Nationalism and politics". In Mervyn Cooke. The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 53. ISBN 0-521-78393-3. 
  11. ^ Frolova-Walker, Marina (2005). "11. Russian opera; The first stirrings of modernism". In Mervyn Cooke. The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 181. ISBN 0-521-78393-3. 
  12. ^ Maes, Francis; Arnold J. Pomerans and Erica Pomerans (translators) (2002) [1996]. "8. "A Musical Conscience" Rimsky-Korsakov and the Belyayev Circle". A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 178–179. ISBN 0-520-21815-9. "This opera was intended as a farewell not only to his own style, but also to a tradition he considered to be of the past." 
  13. ^ Cooper, Martin (n.d.) [1951]. "Chapter V. The Realm of the Fantastic". In Sir George Franckenstein and Otto Erich Deutsch. Russian Opera. St. Clair Shoroes, Michigan: Scholarly Press, Inc. p. 56. ISBN 0-403-01528-6. "Kitezh is the solitary instance among Korsakov's operas of an opening on to the world of the supernatural..." 
  14. ^ Morrison, Simon (2002). "2. Rimsky-Korsakov and Religious Syncretism". Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 169. ISBN 0-520-22943-6. 
  15. ^ Webber, C. Review of CD issue of live recording from the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, 19 January 1955. Opera, January 2014, p102-104.
  16. ^ Source: www.operadis-opera-discography.org.uk.
  17. ^ The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music (The Penguin Guide To Compact Discs and DVDs), p. 1074.
Sources

External links[edit]

The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project