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Theatre / The Snow Maiden

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The Snow Maiden (Russian: Снегурочка, Snegurochka) is a fairytale drama written in 1873 by Alexandr Ostrovsky, and an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov based on the play, with the libretto being quite faithful to the plot. The story has become very famous in Russia, and it established the character of the Snow Maiden in popular culture and Christmas/New Year folklore.

The plot is based on a Russian fairytale from the collections of Alexander Afanasyev. Additionally, though it might be a coincidence and not a deliberate allusion, the play has quite a few similarities to A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Snow Maiden, fairylike daughter of Grandfather Frost and Spring Beauty, longs to live among people – the merry folk of the Berendeys. Her parents let her live in the village, and she's adopted by Bobyl Bakula, the poorest peasant. The Snow Maiden is attracted to Lel, a handsome and charming young shepherd, singer and womanizer, but he soon coldens towards her – as Frost's daughter, she knows no passionate love. Meanwhile, she finds herself, unwillingly and unwittingly, the cause of her best friend Kupava's humiliation and despair – Kupava's bridegroom Mizgir leaves her, enchanted by the Snow Maiden. Kupava pleads to Tsar Berendey for justice. It soon becomes clear that the core of all problems is the Snow Maiden's inability to either understand or feel real love.

The play and the opera contain examples of:

  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Some adaptations of the opera cut the love duet of Lel and Kupava and the ensuing scene with the Snow Maiden startling the couple. It creates a huge plot hole concerning the Snow Maiden's motivations, since it is the fact Lel has left her for Kupava for good that prompts the Snow Maiden to beg her mother for the gift of love (she finally realizes the less beautiful Kupava has something she lacks). Without that scene, it looks like nearly getting raped by Mizgir is what prompts her to want to feel passion (in the play, she outright tells him: "If that's what you call love, then I don't want to feel it").
  • Adapted Out: Yelena the Fair, wife of Boyar Bermyata, isn't in the opera, and her character's cut from most adaptations. Rightly so – basically she does nothing but drool over Lel.
  • Aerith and Bob: All characters have names in pre-Christian Slavic style… and then there is Yelena (Helen) the Fair. However, it's possible that Bermyata, the Tsar's first boyar, could afford to choose a bride from another country.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Downplayed. The Casanova Lel is the center of attention among the village girls, including the Snow Maiden. However, when Mizgir crosses the line by actually promising marriage to Kupava and then publicly going back on it, everyone is completely disgusted.
  • Alone Among the Couples: By the third act, the Snow Maiden sees that all the other girls have paired off with the village lads they like, despite being less beautiful than her, and is devastated.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: The author claims the play is set in "the prehistoric times". However, Mizgir mentions Muslims when he describes his travels, so the actual time period of the setting can be placed between the 7th century (the beginning of Islam) and the late 10th century (the Eastern Slavs converting to Christianity), but nothing more specific.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Bakula and his wife quarrel constantly due to the former's laziness and drinking. They only are a united front when they try to persuade the Snow Maiden to find herself a rich suitor.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • Kupava's first lines are her expressing pity for the Snow Maiden whose suitors have forgotten about her. Five minutes later, Kupava's fiance Mizgir dumps her for the Snow Maiden.
    • Mizgir says he'll give up his life for the Snow Maiden's love, and in the third act, he drowns himself after she dies due to falling in love with him.
    • The Snow Maiden herself knows she'll be at the risk of melting if she feels passionate love. She is willing to take that risk, however, and she melts mere hours later.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In most of the opera productions, the Snow Maiden is dressed in white or light blue and Kupava wears bright red.
  • Cross-Cast Role: Several of them in the opera.
    • Lel is a mezzo-soprano (usually; sometimes a countertenor can be cast too).
    • The Tsar's Page is a mezzo as well.
    • Maslenitsa Carnival (a female entity in Russian folklore) is a baritone.
  • Custody Battle: A brief one in the play. Spring Beauty demands Grandfather Frost gives the Snow Maiden to her, but he immediately tells her he won't trust someone as flighty with their daughter since she won't look after her anyway. They settle on letting the Snow Maiden fulfill her dream and go live in a human village.
  • Damsel in Distress: The Snow Maiden is cornered by Mizgir who attempts to rape her. She screams for Lel to save her, but instead it's the Wood Spirit who comes to the rescue.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance. The Berendeyan folk are purposefully portrayed with a very different moral code. Dumping your bride is an unheard-of evil – but it can be pardoned if you manage to defrost the girl who was actually the cause of it. Death penalty is something to be avoided at all costs – but the death of a perfectly innocent girl and suicide of her (admittedly, not so innocent) bridegroom aren't worth a glance because it was a sacrifice to the sun.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • In the opera, Kupava's father and the village couples are just random people in the chorus.
    • Bermyata only has a few lines in the opera, and the whole subplot of his troubled marriage is cut out. Same goes for any adaptation that doesn’t feature his wife.
  • Disneyland Mom: In a rare gender-flipped version, it's Spring Beauty who sees her daughter rarely and mostly shows her affection through fancy gifts, while Grandfather Frost is the one who primarily raises her and who make sure she stays protected.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Permanent exile into wilderness for breaking an engagement sounds just a bit too excessive.
  • Double Entendre: A blink-and-you'll-miss-it example in act three. The Snow Maiden is holding a flower wreath when Mizgir professes his passion for her. When she rejects him, he is outraged and, before trying to take her by force, says, among other things: "Throw away your girlish flowers!" The original Russian adjective can mean both "girlish" and "virginal".
  • Driven to Suicide: Mizgir drowns himself in despair after the Snow Maiden dies in his arms at their wedding with a Dying Declaration of Love.
  • Everybody Calls Him "Barkeep":
    • Bobyl is an archaic Russian word for a peasant with no land of his own. Although Bobyl has a name (Bakula), he's usually addressed or referred to as Bobyl. The real name of his wife, Bobylikha (ikh is a feminine suffix, often used in Old Russian with the meaning of "someone's wife"), remains unknown.
    • Downplayed with the Wood Spirit: some Wood Spirits in Russian folklore have personal names, while this one doesn't (or if he does, it's never mentioned).
  • Fire and Ice Love Triangle: Mizgir is initially engaged to passionate, lively Kupava, but dumps her immediately after seeing the shy and aloof Snow Maiden.
  • Gold Digger:
    • Grandfather Frost hopes that if the Snow Maiden is taken care of by a poor couple, young men won't be interested in someone who has no dowry to offer. It doesn't work out that way, to say the least.
    • Bobyl and Bobylikha embody the trope on the Snow Maiden’s behalf (they are very annoyed that the foolish girl just won’t act as one herself). As soon as they notice Mizgir’s interest in her, they don’t hesitate to ask for every rich gift possible. Being so smitten with the Snow Maiden, he doesn’t care.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo: In the film adaptations, the innocent and icy Snow Maiden is a blonde and the passionate and down-to-earth Kupava is a brunette.
  • Heavy Sleeper: What the Wood Spirit really wants is to get some sleep in his tree-hole, and that's where he remains for the most part of the plot, appearing only three times. The first time, he announces that Frost is leaving and he, the Spirit, is off to bed. Afterwards, only very loud voices can wake him, and only if these are the voices of Frost or his daughter.
  • Heel Realization: After a whole night of running around in the woods after his own hallucinations thanks to the Wood Spirit's magic, Mizgir finally gets it into his head that the Snow Maiden is afraid of him and that he really shouldn't have stalked and tried to rape her. By that point, however, she is already in love with him thanks to Spring Beauty's magic.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: The Snow Maiden is much shorter than both of her suitors in both feature adaptations.
  • I'm Melting!: The Snow Maiden literally melts after she becomes able to feel love and the sun shines on her.
  • The Ingenue: The Snow Maiden, physically aged fifteen, is at least about five years younger psychologically. Her concept of love is more similar to a Like Brother and Sister relationship. When Lel asks for a kiss, she thinks it the same as the usual kiss of greeting, and is surprised he would ask for something so trifling. When Mizgir falls to his knees before her, she is scared and asks him to stand up. And, although she's aching to be Lel's bride, she is much less enthusiastic at the idea of being a wife.
  • Innocent Soprano: The titular heroine, a lyric coloratura soprano, is a naive child of Father Frost and Spring Beauty, completely unable to understand the concept of passionate love.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Kupava tries to drown herself after Mizgir spurns her. Lel pulls her away from the river.
  • Jealous Romantic Witness: The Snow Maiden has to watch her sweetheart Lel kiss Kupava in front of everyone, after the Tsar tells Lel to pick a girl to kiss in reward for his beautiful song. Later she secretly watches Lel and Kupava declare their love for each other, which leads her to realise she lacks something Kupava has (being a Tragic Ice Character, the Snow Maiden can feel platonic love but has zero concept of passion and sexual relations).
  • Ladykiller in Love: Lel flirts with every girl and woman in the neighborhood, however, his feelings for the Snow Maiden run deeper than it might seem at first, since he weeps when they are separated and later admits he used to be madly in love with her. Later, he finds a Second Love with Kupava and says he is done with fooling around.
  • Love at First Sight: Mizgir falls head over heels for the Snow Maiden from the moment he sees her. Downplayed, since for the better part of the opera, it's nothing but mindless lust, and he only begins to respect her as a person after undergoing Break the Haughty courtesy of the Wood Spirit.
  • Love Dodecahedron. Lel is adored by the village girls and women, and he flirts with all of them (sometimes with several at the same moment). He also flirts with Yelena, the wife of Bermyata. The Snow Maiden loves Lel but her feelings never go beyond Precocious Crush thanks to her nature, and she is adored by the village boys, all of whom whom she rejects. Mizgir, Kupava's fiance, falls obsessively in love with the Snow Maiden, and Kupava later ends up with Lel.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Mizgir is very nice and pleasant… that is, until he sees the Snow Maiden, after which he becomes a crazy Stalker with a Crush.
  • May–December Romance: Or, rather, Mayfly-"Decemberfly", because both are immortal. Namely Spring Beauty, who looks like a gorgeous young woman, and Grandfather Frost, who looks like an elderly man.
  • Moral Myopia: Mizgir chides Kupava for declaring her love for him too openly and calls her shameless, while he tries to embrace the Snow Maiden in front of the villagers and all but yells out his declarations of love.
  • Mum Looks Like a Sister: In the 1968 film adaptation, as well as many stagings of the opera, Spring Beauty and the Snow Maiden look like sisters rather than mother and daughter (in the 1968 film, for example, Natalya Klimova, playing the former, is just eight years older than Yevgenia Filonova, playing the latter). Justified, since Spring Beauty is an eternally young fairy.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Berendey's conclusion of the whole thing. According to him, itoesn't matter that the Snow Maiden and Mizgir had died horrible deaths, since it's for Yarilo the Sun to judge what's right, even though the Snow Maiden's only fault was her very existence.
  • Nature Spirit: Grandfather Frost, Spring Beauty, the Wood Spirit, and Yarilo the Sun are all personifications of the forces of nature.
  • The Philosopher King: Old and wise Berendey loves to wax philosophical on any subject that inspires him.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: In Dmitri Tcherniakov’s 2017 production, played straight with Lel and inverted with Mizgir. In this staging, the Snow Maiden falls passionately in love with Lel and it’s to him that she says all her tender farewells in the melting scene. Meanwhile, though she does sing the love duet with Mizgir, her expressions and body language show she is as repulsed by him as before.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor:
    • Mizgir is one of the richest merchants (if not the richest one) in the tsardom, while Lel doesn't even have a roof of his own. For Bobyl Bakula and his wife, it's the main reason they welcome Mizgir with open arms and throw Lel out without even asking the Snow Maiden what she thinks of all this.
    Mizgir: If I hand out money, I'll have its worth. Keep Lel away, old man, or I won't have anything to do with you!
    Bobyl: Bless you! What's Lel to us? Snow Maiden, dear daughter, our guest doesn't like Lel standing at the door!
    • Technically, Mizgir and Lel have the same dynamic when it comes to Kupava, but, since her father is a wealthy villager, her family doesn't push her to marry for money.
  • Stalker with a Crush:
    • Mizgir insistently follows the Snow Maiden and tries to use alternately pleas, bribes and force to get her to accept him.
    • The Snow Maiden, in turn, constantly clings to Lel, to the point that he has a hard time finding an excuse to shake her off, and later eavesdrops on and interrupts his mutual love confession with Kupava. In her case, it's a more sympathetic example due to her general naivete and extremely sheltered upbringing.
  • Took a Level in Kindness:
    • Downplayed with Mizgir. After a Break the Haughty he lives through thanks to the Wood Spirit, he does realise that asking the Snow Maiden’s consent is important before wooing her. However, much of his selfishness is still there, so he refuses to take her warnings seriously when she cries that she is about to die.
    • A meta version. Grandfather Frost, though never a villain, is very strict and harsh in the play (and in the folk tales about him, where he is at best Good Is Not Nice). But thanks to the play's popularity he became the traditional jolly and kind Christmas gift-bringer in Russia.
  • Tragic Ice Character: The Snow Maiden is lonely in her magical forest and longs for human company. Her parents allow her to live among humans, but even then, the Snow Maiden cannot be happy: she desperately wants to feel passionate love (thanks to her mother's heritage) but is unable to do so (thanks to her father's heritage). It leads to the young man she likes dumping her after he is fed up with her frigidity and naivete. Then, she finally gets her wish to fall in love (with her other suitor) but right after that, she melts in the sun like ordinary snow, and her bridegroom kills himself. On top of it all? Everybody else shrugs it off, saying that the Snow Maiden was an abomination and so deserved to die to restore the balance of nature.
  • Treacherous Spirit Chase: In a variation of the trope, the Wood Spirit conjures visions of the Snow Maiden, who is at that moment alive and well, to lure Mizgir into the deep woods and force him to run madly around all night long, trying to reach her.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Kupava used to be the Snow Maiden's most devoted and caring friend. She doesn't even mourn her death in the end.
  • Weddings for Everyone: Tsar Berendey's idea of greeting the coming summer is to host a grand wedding for all the betrothed couples of the land.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Mizgir finally gets his wish to marry the Snow Maiden, only for her to die on the wedding morning when the sun shines on her.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: The Snow Maiden is more beautiful than any other Berendey girl. However, her gorgeous looks hide her shy and naive nature, so most of her suitors quickly get tired of her.

Tropes specific to the 1952 animated adaptation:

A Compressed Adaptation of the opera.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Mizgir doesn't try to rape the Snow Maiden; instead, he follows her to console her after Lel kisses Kupava and the Snow Maiden runs away in tears.
  • Decomposite Character: In relation to the opera, but not to the play. In the opera, only one Wood Spirit appears onstage; in the play, voices of several Wood Spirits can be heard. In this movie, there are several of them again.

Tropes specific to the 1968 film adaptation:

An adaptation of the play.
  • Bridal Carry:
    • Lel carries Kupava in his arms after stopping her from drowning herself.
    • Mizgir carries the Snow Maiden this way through the forest after she accepts his love.
  • Dies Differently In The Adaptation: One of the few deviations from the source material. Mizgir drops dead of a broken heart instead of throwing himself into the lake.
  • Mystical White Hair: The Snow Maiden's hair is silvery-white, which is another sign of how different she is from human girls.
  • Truer to the Text: The most faithful screen adaptation to date, often following the play word-for-word.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: The innocent and virginal Snow Maiden wears a pure-white dress. Doubles as Ethereal White Dress since it clearly looks fantastical among the Slavic-style dresses of Berendeyan girls.

Tropes specific to the 1971 film adaptation:

The Spring Tale, a loose adaptation of the play.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: Most of the time, Mizgir is very calm, dignified and composed, which is quite the difference from his explosive temper in the play and the other adaptations. It becomes extremely unsettling when he continues to speak calmly as he tries to rape the Snow Maiden.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Coupled with Adaptational Dumbass. Instead of The Philosopher King, serene and majestic, Berendey is now bumbling and half-senile.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Grandfather Frost and the Wood Spirit aren't present in this film.
    • Surprisingly averted with Yelena. It's the only major adaptation that includes her.
  • Damsel out of Distress: When the Snow Maiden sees Lel isn't coming to her rescue, she manages to fight off Mizgir and run away from him by herself.
  • Demoted to Extra: Spring Beauty only appears for a single scene.
  • Denser and Wackier: Includes a lot of comic moments that never happened in the play (such as a cheery animated sequence during the credits), and removes a lot of the darker ones (such as Grandfather Frost and Spring Beauty's marriage drama).
  • Regal Ringlets: Yelena the Fair has her hair styled in neat curls, a contrast to the rest of the women's braided or loose hair.