RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (complete opera), Blu-ray (2014)

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (complete opera), Blu-ray (2014)

Performers: Vladimir Vaneev (Prince Yuri)/Maxim Aksenov (Prince Vsevolod)/ Svetlana Ignotovich (Fevroniya)/ John Daszak (Grishka Kuterma)/ Netherlands Phil. Orch./ Chorus of Netherlands Opera/ Marc Albrecht
Director: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Studio: Opus Arte OA BD7109 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080p HD 
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.0
Subtitles: Russian, German, English, French, Dutch, Japanese, Korean
No Region Code
Length: 187 minutes
Extras: Interviews with Cast and Crew (20 minutes)
Rating: ****

This is not your everyday afternoon at the opera. Leave it to the Netherlands to even think of putting this production, perhaps the composer’s greatest opera, on the stage. Though the work remains popular in Russia, outside of the same it is hardly known. Part of the problem is the intensely national theme, involving two separate tales: one of the historical city of Kitezh, which allegedly became invisible at the onslaught of an attack by the Tatars, and the other of Peter and Fevroniya, two saints of the Russia Orthodox Church who are also enshrined in many folkloric and fanciful stories. In this opera, Peter is essentially jettisoned while Fevroniya plays the saint who is able to convert the drunken and irresponsible Grishka, inspiring him in the end to continue to seek the “invisible city”, at that point acquiring an almost mystical significance, quite unusual for Rimsky-Korsakov—an atheist who had trouble in this opera divorcing himself from his Russian religious roots.

Aside from the invasion of the Tatars, here played with almost eerie contemporary meaning as terrorists with machine guns who delight in slaughter, the parallel tale of Fevroniya as a peasant woman of highest virtue who is yet rejected by the populace for her impending marriage to Prince Vsevelod, is woven with no little degree of libretto mastery. And in the end she is accepted as truth and justice triumph when she reaches the invisible city, though the scene before a bird announces her death, leading us to believe that her glorification is no less than a transfiguration to a better state, where those who have fallen in battle appear again, including her bridegroom.

Yes, it’s quite the story, and a little messy, but is saved by the amazing Wagner-like music of the composer (well kind of), and the opportunity for some remarkable scenery, beautifully represented in this production. Fevroniya is one of Rimsky’s greatest creations, and soprano Svetlana Ignotovich captures the essence of the role with assuredness and great lyrical propulsion. The rest of the cast is equally good, and though this opera remains a bit of a curiosity, great sound, singing, and sets make for an enthralling three hours.

—Steven Ritter

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