Opera Beyond the Usual: Kashchey the Immortal

There is a universe of outstanding opera beyond the most popular two dozen that you may know well. But, sometimes, unfamiliar plots can be a bit tricky to navigate. This season’s Kashchey the Immortal by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is certainly beyond the usual. It’s story is taken straight from Russian childrens’ literature, so, it’s literally easy enough for a 5 year old to understand.  Rimsky-Korsakov wrote this little story, based on the traditional Russian folktale, with help from his eldest daughter, Sophia Nikolayevna.  Igor Stravinsky and Michel Fokine used the same folktale as the basis for their ballet, The Firebird. Here’s a quick synoposis…

Scene 1 Kashchey’s realm

The beautiful Princess Nenaglyadnaya Krasa is imprisoned by the evil wizard Kashchey in his gloomy kingdom, longing for her beloved Prince Ivan-Korolevich. She is upset when looking into Kashchey’s magic mirror (are we in familiar territory, yet?). The Princess sees her bridegroom together with Kashcheyevna, the beautiful, cunning daughter of Kashchey.

Kashchey also glances into the mirror. He sees Prince Ivan and fears that Ivan could bring about his death! Why? (Careful! Here comes the plot twist.) Because Kashchey has hidden his death in the tear of his daughter! He is safe until Kashcheyvna sheds a tear. Kashcheyvna’s heart is hard and cold. Many knights have been ruined by her beauty. But, she has never shed a tear for any of them.

Kashchey breaks the mirror into pieces, and sends the Storm Knight, Burya-Bogatyr, to Kashcheyevna to ask how safely she keeps his death hidden.

Scene 2: Kashcheyevna’s domain

Kashcheyevna prepares a magic potion to lull the Prince to sleep and force him to forget his beautiful Princess. When Ivan-Korolevich enters, she gives him the potion to drink. Burya-Bogatyr suddenly appears, and his wind scatters Kashcheyevna’s charms. Following Burya-Bogatyr, Ivan Korolevich leaves for his dear bride.

Scene 3: Kashchey’s realm

The Princess sings a lullaby to Kashchey to put him to sleep so she can make her escape. Prince Ivan arrives. He frees his fiancé. Kashcheyevna pleads with Ivan to remain with her because he has awakened true love in her severe heart. On an impulse of compassion, the Princess kisses Kashcheyevna, and Kashcheyevna begins to cry. Invisible voices announce the death of Kashchey. Kashcheyevna is turned into a weeping willow. But Burya-Bogatyr opens the gates to show the lovers the way out of the gloomy kingdom, and into the world of light, Spring, and love.