November 8, 2013

Kitezh

        A little while ago my radio station of choice played music from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya.”  Invisible city?  That sounded interesting, so I looked it up and discovered the legend of Kitezh.  The basic facts seem to be these: In the thirteenth century the Mongol Horde advanced upon Little Kitezh, conquering and pillaging it and forcing the survivors to flee to Big Kitezh on the shore of Lake Svetloyar.  The Mongols forced a prisoner to betray the path to Kitezh, and when the Horde reached the lake shore they saw the city apparently undefended.  The citizens were simply praying.  When the Mongols rushed to attack, however, fountains miraculously burst up around Kitezh and the city sank into the lake.  The last thing to disappear was the dome of the cathedral with its cross, and to this day you can sometimes hear the ringing of the bells from beneath the water…
        Kitezh is apparently sometimes called “the Russian Atlantis,” but that’s an ignorant comparison as Atlantis was sunken and destroyed in punishment, while Kitezh was sunken and preserved in reward for piety.  The two legends give very different messages and serve very different roles.
        In Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera the city, rather than sinking, is surrounded by a golden mist that makes it invisible to the Mongols.  Also, this occurs in answer to the specific prayers of the wise nature maiden Fevroniya, rather than the populace at large.  And it’s an opera, so everyone dies, but it's okay because they all go to Heaven.  Yeah, operas are silly.  But wonderful.
        Anyway, the legend of Kitezh was new to me, and it’s always a pleasure to add new territory to my map of the fantasy universe.  It was also fun to discover this territory through beautiful music.  Not only was the legend new, but I don’t think I’d ever heard Rimsky-Korsakov’s piece before, either.  If you’d like to hear it, try this by the Prague Symphony Orchestra.  Enjoy!

[Pictures: Invisible Kitezh, stage-set design by Victor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, 1907 (Image from allposter.com);
Kitezh Transformed, stage-set design by Ivan Bilibin, 1929 (Image from Wikimedia Commons).]

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