Opera Scotland

Kashchey the Immortal Kashchey bessmertnyi

Music

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (born Tikhvin, 18 March 1844; died Lyubensk, 21 June 1908)

Text

The Composer

Source

Scenario by Yevgeny M Petrovsky

 

Premieres

First Performance: Moscow (Solodovnikov Theatre), 25 December 1902.

First Performance in UK: London (Barbican Hall), 13 May 1994 (concert).

First staged performance in UK: Buxton (Opera House), 9 July 2012.

First Performance in Scotland: N'A.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

If anyone is at all familiar with the Russian fairy tale used in Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird, composed less than a decade after Rimsky's opera, then they know the basis of the opera's plot, except for the fact that the idea of the Firebird is very much suited to dance rather than to opera. Kashchey has imprisoned a beautiful Princess, who is at last rescued by Prince Ivan. It features much of Rimsky's most forward-looking orchestration, combined with delightful treatment of traditional folk elements. Instead of a Firebird we have Kashchey's daughter and a character called simply the Storm Knight. It is a compact drama, lasting barely an hour in a single act, with no conventional arias or ensembles.

At its premiere in Moscow, it was paired with a revival of Tchaikovsky's Yolanta. Buxton's choice of another rarity from the period, The Maiden in the Tower by Sibelius, is an imaginative decision, repeating the theme of a heroine needing to be rescued by her lover.

 

Characters

Kashchey the Immortal (tenor)

Princess (soprano)

Kashcheyevna, Kashchey's daughter (mezzo-soprano)

Prince Ivan Korolevich (baritone)

Storm Knight (bass)

 

Plot Summary

Kashchey's fiefdom is a wretched place, permanently autumnal, and with skulls indicating the likely fate of intruders. The Princess laments her imprisonment by Kashchey and her separation from her love, Prince Ivan. Kashchey uses his magic mirror to see his daughter approaching, but is horrified also to see Prince Ivan. The secret of his immortality lies in his daughter's continuing to follow his own path of wickedness without feeling emotion. Kashcheyevna, in her own castle, has the habit of drugging every man who approaches her, and killing them while they sleep. In this way Ivan is duly anaesthetised, but as she hesitates to behead him she is interrupted by the Storm Knight. He is another of Kashchey's prisoners, and has been sent to support her, but he has decided it is time to rebel, so he wakes Ivan and tells him of his Princess's captivity. The Storm Knight takes Ivan to Kashchey's castle, where the Princess has lulled the magician to sleep. As the lovers are reunited, Kashcheyevna enters, determined to win Ivan for herself. She promises the Princess her freedom if Ivan will stay behind with her, but they refuse to be separated. Kashchey awakes to the realisation that his daughter is in love. When the Princess takes pity on her and kisses her brow, Kashcheyevna begins to weep for the first time. She is changed into a weeping willow, and Kashchey, his powers defeated, dies. As his realm collapses around them, the surviving characters rejoice at their freedom. Spring returns.

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