opening night: march 6th, 2009
A short summary of the opera (as short as possible):
On a wintry evening three sisters are sitting at spinning wheels. Tsar Saltán, overhearing them, chooses the youngest sister to be his bride. The two jealous older sisters, with help of the old woman Babarikha, write a message to the Tsar when he is away at war: his first born child to his Tsaritsa is not human, but a monster. In the first act, a messenger stumbles in on the royal court (he has been waylaid with drink by Babarikha). His message from the Tsar is read by the scribes: the Tsaritsa and her progeny must be placed in a barrel and thrown into the sea. Reluctantly the people carry out the Tsar’s command.
After a beautiful sea-storm, the Tsaritsa and her son Gvidon land on the island of Buyan. Gvidon has grown remarkably rapidly into a young man. In the course of searching for sustainance, Gvidon rescues a swan from being killed by a kite. The Swan-Bird in gratitude causes a city to arise magically on the island, and Gvidon is hailed by its inhabitants as its Prince.
After some time, Gvidon wants to see his father again. The Swan-Bird finds a way to help him: she changes him into a bumblebee so that he can fly over the sea. The insect is eventually chased away from Saltáns court.
Gvidon, again by the seashore of Buyan, longs for a bride. The Swan-Bird appears. Gvidon tells her of a Princess that he heard about, and the Swan-Bird transforms into that very Princess. After this, Gvidon, with his mother aside, welcomes Saltán. Although Gvidon tries to cheer him up with three wonders, only the presence of Militrisa can assuage Saltan’s guilt. The older sisters beg forgiveness, which in his happiness Saltan grants; and everyone then joins in a celebration of the upcoming wedding of Gvidon and the Princess-Swan.
Based upon the fairy tale by Pushkin, the opera by Rimsky-Korsakov is particularly well-known for the musical accompaniment of the transfigured prince Gvidon, also known as “the flight of the bumblebee”. Apart from this, the opera offers a treasure of beautiful and enchanting music. The libretto, however, being somewhat simplified on one hand and unnecessary lengthened by a long prologue on the other, poses several dramaturgical challenges. In this production these were overcome by introducing a storyteller.
The situation, in which the whole ensemble together tells the story of the Tsar made it also possible to solve the magical features of the story in a “hands-on” way. Examples for this are the squirrel at the end of the story, which became a 1 meter high puppet manipulated by the storyteller and the transfiguration of prince Gvidon: a moving-head lighting armature showing the eyes of an insect. The result was a non-psychological deconstruction of the story, very suited for a young audience. In the papers, the production was mentioned to be “a real fairy tale”.
link to Opernnetz (German)