Maslenitsa (The Pancake Week)
This week Russians are celebrating the Maslenitsa Festival (also known as the Wide Pancake Week). This is a week of fun and plenty of good food including an endless number of pancakes made and eaten.
There is a beautiful scene describing the very last day on this Festival in the Prologue to the Rimsky-Korsakov's opera 'The Snowmaiden'.
So, what is this Festival about? It celebrates the end of the long and cold Winter and welcomes the coming of Spring. Maslenitsa originates from a very old pagan tradition, and 'The Snowmaiden' is taking us back to these times when people believed the World to be full of magic creatures. A few of them - Father Frost, Beautiful Spring, Snowmaiden, Leshiy - play their roles in this opera.
People of those times were also praying to a number of Gods, and the most important of them was the God of the Sun, Yarilo. He does not appear on stage, but he is invisibly influencing the story and is mentioned a lot throughout the opera. And it is his sunshine that kills the Snowmaiden in the end.
At those times Maslenitsa was also ment to honor Yarilo, the round shape of pancakes symbolises the Sun.
Traditionally on the first day of the celebrations a huge and colourful Maslenitsa Doll is made. It becomes the central hero of the Festival, but in the last day of it, the Doll is taken deep into the woods and burned down (this last bit rarely actually happens on stage ☺).
So, in the opera the chorus of villagers (based on a folk tune) fairwells the Maslenitsa Doll into the forest where they meet the Snowmaiden for the first time.
Listen to this chorus on YouTube performed by the Samara Opera and Ballet Theatre