One might ask "what do opera and koliadki have in common?" Can an ancient magical ritual and musical theatre be successfully combined? Rimsky-Korsakov set himself this fantastic task when he set his sights on Gogol's fairytale story Christmas Eve. The result was a "koliadka-story", as the composer himself defined the genre of his opus. The koliadka as a ritual song, koliadka-singing as a community activity, Koliada as a divine sun being – these are the things that particularly interested Nikolai Andreyevich. He wove archaic melodies into the opera's musical fabric, he created a merry, vibrant and noisy crowd of carol-singers from the opera's chorus, and he presented Koliada and her brother-in-arms Ovsen on the imperial stage as themselves.
The production of Christmas Eve at the Mariinsky Theatre was already remarkable for its visual impact, and this revived version has taken on even more striking colours. The 2008 production has spruced itself up and become more elaborate: Dikanka has a larger population and the dances and games of the young people are more impassioned. At the same time, the previous production's sense of almost domestic comfort has been retained, radiated by the on-stage imagery of a snowy Ukrainian village with lights at the little windows. In such a village, whichever peasant house one might enter when lost in a blizzard, one will always find oneself among friends. And the sweet vareniki that fly straight into the mouth of the village witch to the witty accompaniment of Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestra are something one yearns to taste...
The transition from winter to summer is something on a truly cosmic scale, and the entire universe comes into motion: the earth, the underworld and the heavens. And so the opera involves not just people but also "peripheral" beings – hags and witches – as well as residents of the other world and even heavenly bodies led by Venus the Morning Star. Their movements have been conceived by Ilya Zhivoi who has staged the dances and is appearing as stage director of the revived production. The new embodiment of "the role of lighting" in the production is magnificent. Gleb Filshtinsky and Viktoria Zlotnikova have produced impressive visual images: at times the stage is flooded with infernal red light, at others with fathomless indigo, flakes of snow fall on the audience, heavenly bodies fly before them, and entire galaxies open up... The performing cast has also been renewed: the soloists include many who are making their debuts, each of them embodying Rimsky-Korsakov's characters in their own way, looking for their own artistic solutions.
Rimsky-Korsakov's fairytale operas are not infrequently difficult for children to grasp, but Christmas Eve can delight audiences of any age. From the orchestra's first cold chords, creating the sensation of an icy blue colour, to Gogol's final national song of praise, this "koliadka-story" never fails to amaze, cheer, touch and delight. Khristina Batyushina