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Vanishing City, Ravishing Opera

Do you know the term "syncretism"? It means "the tendency to combine or reconcile differing beliefs, as in philosophy or religion." And that aptly sums up Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's complex and kaleidoscopic opera, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya.

The opera's title characters — a city and a maiden — come from two contrasting legends, both based on ancient, Russian folklore. Fevroniya is a young peasant woman who worships nature, heals a dying prince and saves the wicked city of Murom from chaos. Kitezh is a city so devoutly Christian that when it comes under siege, its citizens defend themselves only by praying, and the city disappears in the face of its attackers.

In the wrong hands, blending the two stories could have made for a murky opera. But Rimsky-Korsakov seemed less concerned with his drama's complex mix of beliefs than with its potential for powerful imagery — and he was one of the greatest musical colorists who ever lived. In his hands, a young woman transformed by the beauty and purity of nature becomes a swirl of gentle melody and shifting orchestral textures. And a city that disappears into a golden mist survives in the fervent voices of its people and the shimmering sound of its bells.

The Legend of the Invisible City premiered in St. Petersburg in 1907, and quickly became the most popular opera in Russia. On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us a performance from the Teatro Lirico in Cagliari. It's a co-production with Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, where the opera is scheduled to make its debut later this year.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive.

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