Time: Summer of the 6751st year of the creation of the world
Place: Unspecified location beyond the Volga River
'Hymn to the Wilderness', an orchestral depiction of the scenery of forest wilderness.
Kerzhenskii WoodsThese wild forests with dense thickets and bogs are the home of Fevronia (and her "brother", a tree creeper), who lives in a hut. She is besotted with dreams and poetical fancies, and is a daughter of nature, being on friendly terms with the birds and wild animals, and knowing all the mysteries of the forest. One day she meets a young prince in the forest, who has been hunting and has lost his way. He is Vsevolod, son of Prince Yuri of Kitezh, and he falls for her beauty, spiritual integrity and love of people and of nature. They sing a love duet, in which he places a ring on her finger, but this is interrupted by the sound of the hunting party from afar. He bids her farewell and goes to find the party, while she learns to whom she has become betrothed.
Little Kitezh on the VolgaHoliday festivities are going on in the market place in this place, because the wedding procession of Princess Fevronia is expected to come through. The people crowd around the buffoon and laugh at the bear's antics. An old psaltery-player comes and sings a solemn song. The rich townsfolk, who think Prince Vsevolod should have married a girl with better family connections, persuade Grishka Kuterma (the local drunkard) to mock the princess. The procession approaches to the sound of bells, and (in an old custom) the wedding guests throw honey-cakes, ribbons and coins into the crowd as the bride's 'ransom'. The people chase away Grishka and the procession takes up a blood Suddenly the merrymaking is interrupted as the town is surrounded by an army of invading Tatars. There is a sorrowful lamenting chorus of the people. Fevronia is captured by the Tatars and is racked by anxiety for the fate of her bridegroom and the city of Greater Kitezh, which the Tatars will attack next. But Grishka agrees to betray Russia and to lead the Tatars to the city, while Fevronia prays that it be rendered invisible.
Scene 1 - Great KitezhHearing of the invasion, the people of Greater Kitezh gather in the main square in arms, in dead of night. The prince's huntsman Fyodor Poyarok, whom the Tatars have blinded, tells them of the atrocities committed at Little Kitezh. A boy announces that the Tatars approach. The people prepare for battle, and the Prince leads a battalion which sings a chorus of resolution to fight to the end. Then, a golden fog rises over the Lake and shrouds the city, hiding it from the enemy: only the church bells drone faintly. But a fierce battle breaks out on the banks of the river Kherzhenets. A symphonic interlude, composed around the battle-song theme and another representing the Tatar hordes, depicts the grim scene, and introduces:
Scene 2 - At the lake Svetlyi IarAfter a long trek through the wilderness, Grishka has led the Tatars to the edge of the lake. Unable to see the city for the fog, the Tatars accuse him of treachery and tie him to a tree, intending to kill him in the morning. They make fires and share out their loot. Two of the Tatar leaders, Burundai and Bedyai, quarrel over Fevronia and Bedyai is slain. The Tatars, preparing for night, sing a dismal song about ravens flocking to carnage. They sleep, and Fevronia is heard mourning Vsevolod, who has fallen in battle. Grishka, tormented by fear and remorse, begs her to release him, and she does so believing that kindness will heal his soul. But he is haunted by nightmares, in which the chimes of the Kitezh bells become distorted in his brain. He rushes to drown himself, but stops at the shore as the dawn shows that while the city remains invisible, the reflection of the city can be seen in the water, and the bells ring out ever louder. The Tatars are stricken with fear by the sight and disperse.
Scene 1 - Kerzhenskii WoodsIn pitch darkness Fevronia and Grishka, exhausted, struggle through the wilderness. Grishka is delirious, and after singing a song about the devil and dancing wildly he runs off screaming. Fevronia is lulled to sleep by the sounds of the forest. In her dream the scene is transformed, with fantastic blossoming flowers, candles in the trees, and fairy songbirds. The mythical bird of sorrow, Alkonost, appears to tell her she must die. She welcomes death, and her prince appears to lead her to Kitezh. A second bird, Sirin, promises immortality. The enchantment comes out irresistibly in the Symphonic Interlude leading to:
Scene 2 - The Invisible CityThe scene is in the legendary city of beautiful people with gracious hearts. Fevronia and Vsevolod, Prince Yuri and Fyodor Poyarok all reappear. Fevronia sends a message of hope to Grishka, telling him that one day he too will find the way to the Invisible City. Vsevolod leads his bride to the altar with wedding songs, and a Hymn of Joy, as a solemn chorus, ends the opera. Good, Love and Justice are victorious.