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The Snow Maiden

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Written  1881
Composer  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Language  Russian
First performance  10 February 1882
Librettist  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
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Native title  Russian: Снегурочка–Весенняя сказка (Snegúrochka Vesennyaya Skazka
Based on  The Snow Maiden (play) by Alexander Ostrovsky
Premiere  29 January 1882 (1882-01-29) Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg
Similar  Sadko, The Tsar's Bride, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Golden Cockerel, The Legend of the Invisi

The Snow Maiden (subtitle: A Spring Fairy Tale) (Russian: Снегурочка–Весенняя сказка, Snegúrochka–Vesennyaya Skazka) is an opera in four acts with a prologue by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, composed during 1880–1881. The Russian libretto, by the composer, is based on the like-named play by Alexander Ostrovsky (which had premiered in 1873 with incidental music by Tchaikovsky).


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The first performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera took place at the Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg on 29 January 1882 (OS; 10 February NS) conducted by Eduard Nápravník. By 1898 it was revised in the edition known today. It remained the composer's own favorite work.

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The story deals with the opposition of eternal forces of nature and involves the interactions of mythological characters (Frost, Spring, Wood-Sprite), real people (Kupava, Mizgir'), and those in-between, i.e., half-mythical, half-real (Snow Maiden, Lel’, Berendey). The composer strove to distinguish each group of characters musically, and several individual characters have their own associated leitmotifs. In addition to these distinctions, Rimsky-Korsakov characterized the townspeople particularly with folk melodies. For a deeper understanding of this work from the composer's point of view, the reader is directed to his autobiography, as well as to his own incomplete analysis of the opera from 1905.

Performance history

The Snow Maiden Origins of The Snow Maiden

The Moscow premiere followed that of St. Petersburg three years later in 1885. It was presented by the Russian Private Opera (the Opera of Savva Mamontov in Moscow), conducted by Enrico Bevignani with scenic Design by Viktor Vasnetsov, Isaak Levitan, and Konstantin Korovin; Tsar Berendey – Grigoriy Erchov, Bermyata – Anton Bedlevitch, Spring Beauty – Vera Gnucheva, Grandfather Frost – Stepan Vlasov, The Snow Maiden – Nadejda Salina, Bobyl Bakula – G. Kassilov or Nikolay Miller, Lel – Tatyana Liubatovitch, Mizgir – Mikhail Malinin (Boris Mikhailovich Malinin and Marina Raskova’s father), Second Herald – M.Skuratovskiy.

The Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow presented the opera in 1893.

In March 2014 University College Opera presented a new English translation of The Snowmaiden in the Bloomsbury Theatre.


Time: Pre-historic times Place: The land of the Berendeyans


The Snow Maiden Origins of The Snow Maiden

On Red Hill, near the Berendeyans' trading quarter and Tsar Berendey's capital. The fifteen-year-old Snow Maiden wants to live with the people in the nearby village, and her parents, Spring Beauty and Grandfather Frost, agree to let her be adopted by Bobyl-Bakula and his wife.

Act 1

In the village of Berendeyevka, on the other side of the river.

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Snow Maiden is enchanted by Lel's songs, but is saddened when he goes off with a group of other girls. Kupava enters and announces her own wedding to Mizgir. The ceremony takes place, but then Mizgir notices Snow Maiden, becomes smitten with her, and begs her to love him. Kupava brings this effrontery before the villagers, and they advise her to go to the Tsar for redress.

Act 2

In Tsar Berendey's palace

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Kupava complains of Mizgir to Tsar Berendey, who decides to banish Mizgir to the forest. But these deliberations are disrupted by the appearance of the beautiful Snow Maiden. The Tsar asks her whom she loves, and she says, "no one." The Tsar declares that whoever successfully woos Snow Maiden will win both her and a royal reward. Although the maidens present Lel as the likely candidate, Mizgir swears that he will win Snow Maiden's heart. The Tsar agrees to the contest as the people sing his praises.

Act 3

In a forest reserve, that evening

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The people amuse themselves with song and dance. The Tsar invites Lel to choose a maiden. Despite Snow Maiden's pleas, he kisses Kupava and goes off with her. Snow Maiden, left alone and disconsolate, wonders why Lel has rejected her. Suddenly Mizgir appears and tries once more to win her love. Frightened by his words, she runs off; but the Wood-Sprite tricks Mizgir to follow an apparition of Snow Maiden instead. Lel and Kupava enter, declaring their mutual love. Snow Maiden finds them and, seeing their happiness, at last truly wishes to have the capacity to love.

Act 4

In the valley of Yarilo, the sun god, dawn is breaking the next day

Snow Maiden calls on her mother, Spring-Beauty, who appears from a lake surrounded by flowers. Spring gives her daughter a garland and warns her to stay out of the light of the sun. Spring and her retinue sink into the lake. Before Snow Maiden can enter the protection of the forest, Mizgir appears. No longer able to resist, she professes her love for him. The Berendeyans, in ritual bride-and-groom pairs, arrive to celebrate Yarilo's Day. Mizgir introduces Snow Maiden as his bride. As she declares her love for Mizgir, a bright ray of sunlight appears, and Snow Maiden bids farewell: the power to love is the source of her demise. To the astonishment of the people, she melts. The inconsolable Mizgir drowns himself in the lake. The Tsar calms the horrified Berendeyans with the fact that this event has ended the fifteen-year-long winter that has befallen them. In response the people strike up a stirring hymn to Yarilo.

Derived and related works

  • Suite from the opera The Snow Maiden includes:
    1. Introduction
    2. Dance of the Birds
    3. Procession of Tsar Berendey (Cortege)
    4. Dance of the Skomorokhi (Dance of the Tumblers)
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's incidental music to Ostrovsky's play The Snow Maiden, written in 1873.
  • Recordings

    Audio Recordings (Mainly studio recordings)


  • 1943 (Live), Kiril Kondrashin, Moskva Teatr Bolshoi, Sergei Lemeshev (Tsar Berendey), Nadezhda Obukhova (Snegurochka), Maxim Mikhailov (Ded Moroz), Irina Maslenikova (Vyesna-Krasavitsa), Maria Maksakova (Lel), Sofia Panova (Kupava), Alexai Ivanov (Mizgir)
  • 1956, Yevgeny Svetlanov, Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, Vera Firsova (Snow Maiden), Larisa Avdeyeva (Lel), Galina Vishnevskaya (Kupava), Vera Borisenko (Spring), Valentina Petrova (Bobilichka), Andrey Sokolov (Wood Spirit), L. Sverdlova (Page), Ivan Kozlovsky (Tsar Berendey), Yuriy Galkin (Mizgir), Alexey Krivchenya (Grandfather Frost), A. Khosson (Bobil), Mikhail Skazin (Maslenitsa)
  • 1975, Vladimir Fedoseyev (conductor), Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Valentina Sokolik (Snow Maiden), Irina Arkhipova (Lel), Lidiya Zakharenko (Kupava), Irina Arkhipova (Spring), Nina Derbina (Bobilikha), Aleksandr Arkhipov (Wood Spirit), Anna Matyushina (Page), Anton Grigoryev (Tsar Berendey), Aleksandr Moksyakov (Mizgir), Aleksandr Vedernikov (Grandfather Frost), Yuri Yelnikov (Bobil), Vladimir Matorin (Bermyata), Ivan Budrin (Maslenitsa), Vladimir Makhov (First Herald), Vladimir Yermakov (Second Herald)
  • References

    The Snow Maiden Wikipedia