Opéra Bastille - from 22 October to 10 November 2020
3h50 with 1 interval
Language : Russian
Surtitle : French / English
In few words:
Hide me from the Sun. The terrible radiance of its cruel rays frightens me. Save your Snow Flower! Rimsky Korsakov’s third opera is rooted in the magical fantasy world of popular Slavic legends. A love child of the Spring Fairy and old Winter, Snegurochka is sent to the mythical kingdom of Tsar Berendey to round off her knowledge of the world. Whilst there, she will discover the desire to love which will ultimately lead to her own demise under the rays of the sun god. The story abounds with the symbolism associated with sexual awakening and pagan rituals—recurrent sources of inspiration for the arts at the end of the 19th century. To translate the fantastical world of this initiatory tale, the composer makes use of all the resources of the orchestra and draws on the colours of Russian folk music. By setting the action in a world that seems to have emerged out of his childhood memories, Dmitri Tcherniakov taps into the tale’s allegorical nature to progressively blur the line between dream and reality.
Sixteen years ago, Father Frost and Spring Beauty had a daughter they called Snowmaiden. After her parents separated, Snowmaiden was left to live with her father. Obliged to leave, Father Frost talks to Spring Beauty about their daughter’s future. They agree to send her to live with the Berendey – something that Snowmaiden herself also wishes because the wonderful songs of a certain Lel have attracted her to the community for some time already. The parents let their daughter leave to embark on her new life. Father Frost commands the Wood Sprite to watch over her. Snowmaiden finds herself amid the Berendey just as they are celebrating Candlemas. Bobyl and Bobylikha, an old, childless couple, accept her into their home as their own. Snowmaiden is happy: she has a new family and new friends.
Time passes. Snowmaiden is still living with Bobyl and Bobylikha and she has finally met Lel, to whom she is attracted. Despite her shyness, Snowmaiden finds the courage to ask him to sing his songs that she likes so much. Lel sings but, suddenly distracted by the sight of other young girls, he leaves her. Snowmaiden blames herself for his lack of interest in her. The ever-impatient young Kupava is soon to be married. She is eager to share her joy with Snowmaiden. In a state of excitement, she awaits the visit of Mizgir, her wealthy fiancé. In keeping with an old custom, the fiancé must pay a ransom to retrieve his beloved from her friends. However, on seeing Snowmaiden, Mizgir suddenly abandons Kupava. Kupava feels dishonoured and wants Mizgir to be punished. Everyone is indignant at his disloyalty and they advise Kupava to ask Tsar Berendey to defend her.
Tsar Berendey voices his concerns with his advisor, Bermyata: Yarilo, the formidable Sun God, is angry with the Berendey for an unknown reason. To placate the god, the Tsar decides to celebrate Yarilo’s holy day with a wedding for all engaged couples. Kupava is received by Berendey. She asks the Tsar to defend her and punish Mizgir for having deceived and dishonoured her. Appalled, Berendey orders that Mizgir be brought before him and summons everyone to the supreme court. The Tsar orders Mizgir to marry the insulted Kupava, but Mizgir renounces his fiancée in favour of Snowmaiden. Berendey sentences Mizgir to exile, but when Snowmaiden arrives the Tsar is so moved by her beauty that he reverses his decision. Realising that Snowmaiden has never known love, he declares that the man who can make Snowmaiden fall in love with him before dawn may marry her. Everyone is convinced that Lel alone can set her heart on fire, so Berendey entrusts Snowmaiden to Lel. However, Mizgir suddenly asks for his exile to be deferred and swears he can win the young girl’s heart.
In the forest, the young men and women are courting on the eve of Yarilo’s holy day. Moved by Lel’s song, Tsar Berendey tells him to choose a girl who will thank him with a passionate kiss in front of everyone. Snowmaiden expects Lel to pick her but to her deep dismay he chooses Kupava instead. Mizgir’s insistent courting of Snowmaiden forces her to flee. Relentless, Mizgir pursues the frightened young girl and tries to force his love on her. However, the Wood Sprite comes to her rescue and stops him. Snowmaiden is the unwitting witness to a love scene between Lel and Kupava. Kupava thanks Lel for saving her from dishonour. When he sees Snowmaiden, Lel advises her to listen carefully to Kupava’s ardent words and to learn to love like her. Snowmaiden is left in despair.
Snowmaiden remembers her mother, Spring Beauty, who is her last hope. She begs her to help and to give her the gift of love which everyone reproaches her for not having. Mizgir, exhausted after searching for Snowmaiden, finally finds her in the middle of the forest. The young girl, who has undergone a complete metamorphosis, gazes lovingly at Mizgir and happilyopens her arms to him. Tsar Berendey and all the fiancés and opens her arms to him. Tsar Berendey and all the fiancés and fiancées gather to watch the sunrise. Mizgir is eager to present Snowmaiden to Tsar Berendey as his fiancée and to ask him to bless their union. But Snowmaiden abruptly dies in Mizgir’s arms, after uttering her final words of love for Lel. Everyone is deeply moved, but Tsar Berendey explains that Snowmaiden’s death must not cast a shadow over the festivities in honour of the Sun God Yarilo that are about to take place.