The Invisible City of Kitezh acquires a new look at the Bolshoi Theatre New Stage


Right from the start, Kitezh was thought of as a sort of 'a legacy' to the musical world in which its author had begun to feel very lonely, and for this reason the opera was particularly carefully thought through and written. The working out of plan and text - together with librettist Vladimir Belsky - took a whole four years, and the writing of the music - another two, following which there were numerous 'revisions' and alterations. Rimsky-Korsakov was prepared to make changes to the score after its publication and even after the opera had been premiered at the Maryinsky Theatre!

Having been awaited with huge interest, the opera gave rise to active discussion. The link between this musical 'Gospel' with its pagan "kupalo cult" ( the composer's own expression), on the one hand, and the Western operatic tradition, Wagner's Parsifal, on the other, was noticed. At the same time, whether the opera would go down well with the public at large aroused doubt both with the composer and his close associates. A 'liturgical' opera with the almost miracle-play-like nature of its action, might not be understood. And to this day, 'rarely performed' is one of the most common descriptions found of the work.

This was the first performance of the opera at Cagliari's Teatro Lirico (it was a Bolshoi Theatre-Teatro Lirico co-production - the Italian premiere took place in April of this year) and it immediately won the hearts of the Italian public. While, for the Bolshoi, it will be its seventh production - the last time we heard it was in 1992. Kitezh-2008 is directed by Eimuntas Nekrosius and his regular comrades-in-arms, scenographer Marius Nekrosius and costume designer Nadezhda Gultyaeva. They have created a very particular artistic world. Before the Cagliari first night, the director assured the Italian press that there would be no city as such on the stage, but here he was indulging in a little leg-pulling: for on stage there were both a cupola, and bells, and heavenly flowers, and even a lake.

The production team sets the opera in a fairytale, ancient, ritual space. On stage, a make-believe, theatrical world of play comes alive - a bear in human form (a real person) and equally alive (though in fact they are wooden) figures of reindeer, plus characters who indulge in ritualistic, 'archaic' gesticulation. Via this play with the symbols of Russian culture, the designers offer the spectator a complex chain of transformations and associations. But, for all this, Eimuntas Nekrosius leaves the stage space open to interpretation. In his opinion, there is more truth in something unfinished: "that which is not defined once and for all says much more to the spectator - just as a single gesture can be far more eloquent than a mass of words. Today art is very aggressive, it is out to promote a particular point of view. But the spectator does not like it when a powerful directorial hand reaches into his soul".

In Kitezh, at the Bolshoi Theatre, the following soloists left their mark: Tamara Milashkina, Galina Kalinina, Makvala Kasrashvili, Lyudmila Sergienko, Galina Borisova, Tamara Sinyavskaya, Nikandr Khanaev, Evgeny Raykov, Vladislav Pyavko, Alexei Maslennikov, Maxim Dormidontovich Mikhailov, Mark Reshetin, Alexander Filippovich Vedernikov. In the first Kitezh, at the New Stage, Fevronia will be sung by Tatiana Monogarova, Tatiana Smirnova and Yelena Yevseyeva, Prince Vsevolod - by Roman Muravitsky and Vitaly Panfilov, Grishka Kuterma - by Mikhail Gubsky and Vitaly Tarashchenko, Prince Yury - by Mikhail Kazakov, Igor Matyukhin and Pyotr Migunov.

"An epic opera - and this is one of the few epic operas in the Russian repertoire - contains more than just its own, particular dramatic conflict, it touches on issues which are of significance for the whole of mankin. Herein lies its strength and topicality", says Bolshoi Theatre chief conductor and music director of the production, Alexander Vedernikov.

The premiere performances ran from 10 to 13 October.
The second series will run from 2 to 4 December.