A hermitage, Mid-summer. Birds are singing, a cuckoo is crying.
Eventide. Maiden Fevronia has lived in a hermitage in a thick forest since
childhood. Birds and beasts-a Crane, a Bear and an Aurochs (the extinct wild
cow)-come up when they hear her voice.
Prince Vsevolod, son of Prince Yury Vsevolodovich, the ruler of Greater
Kitezh, is lost during a hunting trip. He is amazed by a vision of Fevronia
talking to beasts and wonders if he is having a dream.
Fevronia thinks that the young stranger is the princes' huntsman, and tells
him that he must hurry because it is getting dark and his arm, which has been
injured by a bear, is bleeding. Fevronia carefully washes the wound and applies
forest herbs to it. The young prince is struck by his miraculous healing and
asks Fevronia about her solitary life in the forest. She describes her simple
and poor life, and mentions her hardships during a cold winter. She tells about
the long-awaited coming of spring when nature blossoms and the voices of birds
evoke charming dreams in her. She has a vision of the transformation of nature
into God's church-a prophecy that is destined to come true.
At first Vsevolod doubts her unusual story, but gradually Fevronia's animated
description of divine joy fascinate him. The delighted prince offers his hand
and heart in marriage. On hearing huntsmen's voices the prince says goodbye to
Fevronia. She is confused-if she follows Vsevolod to Greater Kitezh, she will
have to leave her hermitage in the forest. The huntsmen, led by Feodor Poyarok,
are looking for the prince. When they arrive Fevronia learns from them who her
Crowds of people are in the marketplace. Beggars are asking for alms, boys
are scurrying about. The drunkard Grishka Kuterma amuses the crowd. The people
of the city have heard that Fevronia, the young bride of the prince, will pass
through the city. An old man prophesies a terrible disaster that will befall
their land. The affluent people of Kitezh watch the crowd with indignation-they
feel that Vsevolod insulted them by choosing a bride of humble origin. They give
money to Grishka and tell him to insult Fevronia. For a price he is happy to
deride anyone. When Fevronia arrives accompanied by Feodor Poyarok the crowd
greets her. Grishka tries to push his way through the crowd to Fevronia, but the
people will not let him through. He insults her, mocking her low birth. Showing
compassion, she answers him sincerely and meekly. Grishka is perplexed, but
getting angry he cries loudly saying that misery and humiliation await Fevronia.
Poyarok suggests to the crowd that they sing a song of praise in Fevronia's
honor, but the song is broken abruptly. The old man's prophecy comes true: the
hordes of Batu Khan led by Bedyay and Burunday burst into the city The Tartars
kill the horror-stricken people, capture Fevronia and blind Feodor. No one will
show them the way to Greater Kitezh. Only Grishka, who is terrified of being
tortured, agrees to act as the Tartars' guide. Fevronia prays to God and asks
him to make the city invisible.
At midnight all the inhabitants of Greater Kitezh gather to learn of their
destiny. They cluster around Feodor who has reached the city together with the
young prince. His account of the terrible disaster-the capture of Lesser Kitezh
by the Tartars without any resistance-horrifies them. No less shocking is the
rumor that the prince' bride, Fevronia herself, is guiding the Tartars to
Greater Kitezh. The people are discouraged. The elderly Prince Yury is mounful.
The prayers of the inhabitants of Greater Kitezh alternate with omens. A young
boy sees a burning city and rivers of blood flowing from its gates. This vision
is replaced by a picture of the devastated Kitezh and then the young boy has a
vision of the empty bank of Lake Svetly Yar shrouded by mist-the city disappears
from the earth. The people of Kitezh are preparing to die. Prince Vsevolod calls
on the men to fight the enemy. The prince departs to meet a certain death. Only
women and children remain in the city. Suddenly church bells begin to toll of
their own accord and a mist obscures the city, covering it with a dense shroud.
On the threshold of death or a new life, the sorrowful mood of the people of
Kitezh is replaced by a feeling of joy.
The battle at the Kerzhenets River
Prince Vsevold's army is defeated in a bloody battle against the Tartars.
Vsevolod, who has received forty wounds, dies.
Bank of Lake Svetly Yar
Pitch-dark night. The opposite bank, where Greater Kitezh stands, is shrouded
in mist. Grishka guides the Tartars to the lake. Bedyay and Burunday suspect
that Kuterma is deliberately misleading them and threaten to punish him unless
they see the city in the morning. The Tartars tie him to a tree and begin to
divide the booty. Burunday demands that Fevronia be given to him. A quarrel
ensues and Burunday kills Bedyay. While the nomads sleep Fevronlya laments the
death of Vsevolod. Kuterma is tortured by a fear of death and the ringing of the
Kitezh bells, which seems to sound in his ears. He implores Fevronia to save
him, but she is afraid of the Tartars' punishment. Grishka admits that he spread
a rumor about her leading the Tartars to Kitezh. Fevronia is struck and
frightened by the darkness of Grishka's soul. Giving in to Grishka's pleading,
she releases him to atone by prayer for his sin of treachery, but he is so
frightened that he is unable to run. In despair he wants to drown himself in the
lake but a vision in the dawn's early light startles him-he sees the empty bank
and a reflected image of the city on the surface of the lake. The festive
pealing of the bells gets louder. Grishka loses his mind and rushes to the
forest taking Fevronia with him. His cries awake the Tartars. On seeing the
invisible city of Kitezh reflected in the water they run away in horror.
An impassable thicket in the Kitezh forest
Dark night. Fevronia, and Grishka have been making their way through the
dense forest for many days. Fevronia tries to teach him to pray, but Grishka
sees devils everywhere and with wild cries rushes into the thicket. Fevronia
calls after him but does not receive an answer. Exhausted, she lies down on the
grass, awaiting death. She plunges into a blissful state-exhaustion and pain
have left her. All the predictions she told Vsevolod during their first meeting
come true in a mysterious way. At the moment her soul is leaving earthly life
she envisions the transfiguration of the forest-with flowers of paradise and the
voices of prophetic birds. The Alkonost bird is singing about death, calm and
mercy, and the Sirin bird is chanting about joy and eternal life. In the
afterworld Fevronia meets Vsevolod.
The way to the Invisible City
The ringing of the bells is getting louder and louder. The Sirin and Akonost
birds are singing about the new heaven and new earth and about a kingdom of
light that cannot be described in words.
The Invisible City
Fevronia and Vsevolod enter the miraculously transformed city of Kitezh.
Everything is bathed in light. Fevronia looks at the happy inhabitants of
Kitezh. She sees Prince Yury and Feodor, who has regained his sight. She
recognizes the wedding song-the one they began to sing at Lesser Kitezh. She is
beside herself with happiness. Prince Yury tells her that the light comes from
the prayers of the righteous; the white vestments they wear are washed by the
tears of martyrs. Fevronia lacks only one thing in this harmony-she feels pity
for Grishka who remains in the forest. She would like him to join them in the
city. But his time has not come. Fevronia writes a letter to Grishka informing
him that Kitezh has not been captured and its residents have not died and are
now living in a divine place. Fevronia's letter indicates the way to the
invisible city. Vsevolod and Fevronia, accompanied by the pealing of bells and
the song of eternal joy, enter the cathedral.
Libretto by Vladimir Nikolayevich Bel'sky