Mlada and the Spellbinding Female Circle
The phantasmagorical opera-ballet Mlada (1892) features a khorovod (circle-dance) of feminine royals: Mlada, the silent dancing shadow of a deceased princess-bride and her rival Voislava, a pagan princess; Morena, a powerful water sorceress and spirit of death, and the goddess Lada. The circle, completed by Cleopatra, eclipses the central male character Yaromir. Confused disoriented, lost between past and present, constantly retreating to his dreams, Yaromir likely experiences amnesia and confabulation—known as “Korsakov’s syndrome,” named after the composer’s contemporary and namesake Sergei Korsakov. Beyond the mélange of ritualistic, gnostic, erotic, scary, and psychotic plot elements, Mlada conveys the already well-known tale of a deceased bride stuck in a space between life and death, claiming her beloved. As Mlada acquires her dazed Yaromir, Morena (possibly once a rusalka herself) floods the Slavic folk. In the midst of this pagan Slavic tale rises Cleopatra with her entourage of seductive Egyptian slave dancers and an orchestra of specially made instruments, tsevnitsas. Both Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky elsewhere refer to this instrument in choral polonaises welcoming the entrance of an empress, who in Gogol’s tale, a source of both operatic plots, is identified as Catherine II.
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