Kashchey the Deathless (Russian: Кащей бессмертный, Kashchey bessmertnïy), aka Kashchey the Immortal, is a one-act opera in three scenes (styled a "little autumnal fairy tale") by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The libretto was written by the composer, and is based on a Russian fairy tale about Koschei the Deathless, an evil, ugly old wizard, who menaced principally young women. A similar fairy tale was also used by Igor Stravinsky (Rimsky-Korsakov's pupil) and Vaslav Nijinsky to create their iconic ballet, The Firebird.
The opera was composed during 1901-1902 and the work was completed in 1902. It was first performed the same year in Moscow.
The premiere took place on 25 December (O.S. 12 December) 1902 at the Solodovnikov Theater in Moscow. It was conducted by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov with set designs by Sergey Malyutin.
The St. Petersburg premiere followed on 9 April (O.S. 27 March) 1905 and was given at the Komissarzhevskaya Drama Theatre performed by students of the Conservatory and conducted by Alexander Glazunov.
Other important premieres took place in 1917 at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, conducted by Emil Cooper; in 1919 in Petrograd at the Theatre of Opera and Ballet conducted by Khessin; in 1924 in Barcelona, given in Russian; and in 1928 in Salzburg also given in Russian.
The United Kingdom premiere took place in 1994 (to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the composer's birthday). The work was given more recently in London, in concert performance on 5 September 2008.
The full score and vocal score were published by Bessel in 1902 and also in Rimsky-Korsakov's Complete Works, volumes 12 and 40, Muzgiz, Moscow 1954.
Place: Kashchey's realm in the thrice-tenth kingdom, a far off place (beyond thrice-nine lands) in Russian fairy tales.
The beautiful Princess Tsarevna Nenaglyadnaya Krasa is imprisoned by the evil wizard Kashchey the Deathless in his gloomy kingdom, longing for her beloved Prince Ivan-Korolevich. She is upset when looking into the magic mirror, she sees her bridegroom together with Kashcheyevna, the daughter of Kashchey. Kashchey, who also glances into the mirror, is afraid that Ivan could bring him death – he hid his death in the tear of his daughter, whose heart is hard and cold. Many knights were ruined by her beauty, and no one could see her tears. Kashchey breaks the mirror into pieces, and sends Storm-hero Burya-Bogatyr to Kashcheyevna to ask how safely she keeps his death.
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.
The Princess sings a lullaby to Kashchey. Ivan-Korolevich arrives. He frees his fiancé, but Kashcheyevna pleads with Ivan to remain with her, since he has awakened love in her severe heart. In an impulse of compassion, the Princess kisses Kashcheyevna, and she 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.
Structure of the opera
- 1. Dni bez prosveta (Princess and Kashchey)
- 2. Ya vishu devu krasoty chudesnoy (Princess, Kashchey and Burya-Bogatyr)
- 3. Temny yeyo ochi (Arioso of Kashchey)
- 4. Vy, gusli samogudy (Choir / Interlude)
- 5. Nastala noch (Arioso of Kashcheyevna)
- 6. Glukhaya noch (Scene and Arietta of Ivan-Korolevich)
- 7. Pit'yo prokhladnoe (Duo of Kashcheyevna and Ivan-Korolevich)
- 8. Zasnul (Kashcheyevna, Ivan-Korolevich and Burya-Bogatyr)
- 9. Bayu, bay, Kashchey sedoy (The Lullaby of Princess)
- 10. Mereshchitsja (Duo of Princess and Ivan-Korolevich)
- 11. Prosti, lyubimy korolevich moy (Kashcheyevna, Princess, Ivan-Korolevich and Kashchey)
- 12. Konets zlomu tsarstvu (Final Chorus)
Audio Recordings (Mainly studio recordings)
- 1991, Andrey Chistyakov (conductor), Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra, Yurlov Academic Choir, Aleksandr Arkhipov (Kashchey), Irina Zhurina (Tsarevna), Nina Terentyeva (Kashcheyevna), Vladislav Verestnikov (Ivan Korolevich), Vladimir Matorin (Storm-Bogatyr)
- 1999, Valery Gergiev (conductor), Kirov Opera & Orchestra, Marina Shaguch (Tsarevna), Konstantin Pluzhnikov (Kashchey), Aleksandr Morozov (Storm-Bogatyr), Aleksandr Gergalov (Ivan Korolevich), Larisa Dyadkova (Kashcheyevna)
- Griffiths, Steven. A Critical Study of the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov, 1844-1890. New York: Garland, 1989.
- Rimsky-Korsakov, A.N. – Н.А. Римский-Корсаков: жизнь и творчество [N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov: Life and Work]. [5 vols.] Москва: Государственное музыкальное издательство, 1930.
- Richard Taruskin. "The Case for Rimsky-Korsakov," Opera News, vol. 56, nos. 16 and 17 (1991–2), pp. 12–17 and 24-29, respectively.