The Snow Queen - a Fairy Tale Opera

First Story: The Devil’s Mirror and the Shards of Glass 

Once upon a time, in a dark cave, there lived a bad troll. He was one of the worst; the Devil himself! All the young trolls went to his Troll School. But one day two young trolls discovered a sign on the mighty front door of the Troll Cave: 'No Troll School today. Important work. Do not disturb!'

What was the great Master Troll working on? Quietly, the curious youngsters sneaked into the cave and saw the Devil Troll hammering and planning, pushing and scraping, polishing, welding and sweating. Then he suddenly discovered them and shouted, ‘What are you doing down there? Go on, off to the benches!’

Quickly the young trolls hurried to their places and listened to their teacher, who said, ‘Look, let's start now. And later you will become smarter than before. Because I forged this mirror here, which shows you the world for what it really is: a pathetic joke!’

The Devil Troll was in a really good mood, for he had made a mirror that was able to turn everything good and beautiful that was reflected in it into practically nothing. 

To top that off, whatever was fit for nothing and looked bad became even worse. The loveliest landscapes looked like boiled spinach in it, the most beautiful music sounded like terrible croaking. If a good pious thought went through the mind of a person, a grimace appeared in the mirror.

‘Hold my mirror against the world!’ the Devil Troll told his students, 'from west to east to south to high in the north, to the land of eternal snow, fly high and carry it into the sky until the Universe is reflected in the mirror, and even the most beautiful, purest thought is twisted into a grimace, and shake the world to its deepest, making fun of it'.

With the big mirror in their hands, Clumsy Troll and Silly Troll were on their way. But it was not so easy to transport the heavy mirror! Then the mirror shook, so violently it grinned, that it shot out of their hands and crashed down onto the ground, where it shattered into hundreds, then, millions, then billions of pieces!

This caused great misfortune, much more than the intact mirror would have. Some of the pieces were scarcely as big as a grain of sand, and these flew all over the world, and wherever they got into people’s eyes, they stayed put and then those people saw everything wrong, or only had eyes for what was bad about something, for every speck of the mirror had retained the same power as the whole mirror had possessed; some people even got a tiny mirror shard in their heart, and that was quite horrible – the heart became like a lump of ice.

The two young trolls fell down to the ground with the mirror and landed in the middle of the palace of the Snow Queen. And then what happened? Soon we’ll find out!

Second Story: A Little Boy and a Little Girl

In the big city lived two children a boy and a girl. His name was Kay and her name was Gerda. They were neighbours, and their families lived in the attics of two adjacent houses. Outside the windows both their families had a large wooden box where they grew the most beautiful roses. In the summer, when the sun shone and the roses were in bloom, the children could get together by taking one big step; in the winter they first had to go down many stairs and up many stairs, the snow swirling outside. It was at the intersection that they would meet Gerda’s grandmother. One rainy afternoon, Gerda told her grandmother: ‘Grandma, I think it’s snowing!’ Grandmother answered, ‘in summer? No Gerda, it’s just blizzard, a hail shower, it will soon be over’.

‘Snowflakes fly through the air in winter like white bees,’ Kay said, ‘except that they do not have a queen’.

‘They do indeed!’ the grandmother said. ‘In winter, when the snow is the thickest, she flies, the largest snowflake of them all, from the mountains through the city streets. Sometimes she peeps through the windows then they freeze over so strangely, as if they were painted with frosty flowers.’

Kay became defiant. ‘Just let her try and come in,’ the boy said, ‘and I’ll put her on the hot stove, and I will be happy to see how she’ll melt.’

And when the hailstorm was over, Kay and Gerda walked happily out into the roof garden again.

Not a single rose was broken by the hail and they sang their favorite song about the secret of the beautiful roses:

In a faraway garden

rare roses are waiting for you.

Deep in their blossoms

they timidly keep a secret for you.

You cannot see it

- Cannot hear it

you can only feel it in your heart.

If you want to hold it

- You have to let it go,

but if you let it into your heart

it will lead you through your life.

When will I see the faraway roses?

When will their secret be revealed?

Suddenly Kay felt something in his eye, and then something felt like a stab right in the heart. It burned and bit like fire and ice. Gerda was startled and wanted to help him, but Kay pushed his friend away: ‘Don’t touch me! What were you being silly about?’

Gerda started to cry. ‘But Kay, what's the matter with you?’ she asked.

‘I am fine!’ Kay replied, ‘but enough is enough! You and your silly roses!' He mocked her beautiful roses: they now seemed to him crooked, withered, like a disgusting thorny bush.

‘How ugly you are when you cry!’, he said to Gerda, then tore a rose off its stem and walked away.

Gerda ran to her grandmother and while she was comforting the young girl in her arms, a fierce autumn storm broke out. Day by day, week by week, and little by little, Kay changed. A tiny shard of the magic mirror had lodged in his heart and was becoming more and more like ice. When winter came, Kay did not want to play with Gerda anymore.

In the meantime Clumsy Troll and Silly Troll, who had dropped the Devil Troll’s magical mirror of the evil Master Troll, had met the mighty Snow Queen. Because they had entered her realm unasked, they had to do what she told them to. ‘Find the boy who wanted to put me in the stove,’ the Snow Queen commanded the young trolls, and so they set out to find Kay. When they found him, they saw how he was ignoring Gerda's grandmother, her delicious cinnamon stars and the old fairy tales. He would much rather observe the artful, flawless and perfect snowflakes with a large magnifying glass.

On a winter afternoon, the young trolls turned into normal children. And in a big square, in the lively bustle of many other children playing with their sleds in the snow, they yelled at Kay. He took his sled and followed the trolls into the snow. There they discovered a much larger and very beautiful sleigh. It was painted completely white and drove quickly around the place. The trolls challenged Kay to tie his little sled to the big one. They laughed at him - he was too small and the sled was way too fast for him. When Kay succeeded in securing his sled to the big one on the third attempt, they were already sledding away at breakneck speed. Kay was terrified and asked to stop. Finally they did stop, and Kay saw the beautiful Snow Queen.

She took him into the big sleigh, warmed him under her coat and kissed him on the forehead. Oh! It was colder than ice, it went straight into the heart, which was half already half an icicle anyway. Then the Snow Queen kissed Kay again and said:

Everything that was, passes with this kiss.

Cold flows and your mind goes numb.

Strongly beats the circle of thoughts

and closes around your heart,

as it turns to ice.

And so Kay forgot Gerda, the grandmother and everyone at home. The sled flew over forests and lakes, across lands and seas, and below them the cold wind rushed. A puzzle awaited him in the Ice Palace, where he was to help the Snow Queen. Kay was looking forward to it, because he liked calculus and geography.

Third Story: The Magician in her Garden

But how did little Gerda fare during Kay’s absence?  At last spring came, and Gerda was very worried about her friend. People said that he must be dead; that he was drowned in the river, where his sled was found.

Then Gerda went to the river and got into a boat on the shore to look for her Kay. She drove quickly down the river.

The two young trolls who had lured Kay away saw this and hurried after the girl along the shore, because the Snow Queen had told them that Gerda must never find her friend.

Then Gerda reached a beautiful garden, got out of her boat and went inside. The two trolls turned into wooden soldiers and grimly guarded the entrance. Then an old woman came out. She leaned on a cane and she wore a big straw hat, which was adorned with the most splendid flowers. She kindly greeted Gerda and invited her into her garden.

There Gerda asked for her best friend and talked about her favorite roses on the roof garden at home; she told how Kay suddenly became angry, destroyed the beautiful roses, and how he did not want to play with her anymore. Then the old woman took her cane, which could do magic, and stretched it out towards all the rose-trees, beautiful though they were; and they immediately sunk into the dark earth, so that no one could tell where they had once stood.

She comforted Gerda, took her on her lap, combed the little girl’s hair with a magic comb and sang: ‘Many things were and many things won’t stay, many things have already lost their way. Many a hair has been restrained, they were combed smooth again! What will there be, we will see, but first you stay here with me!’

She was not a wicked sorceress, she did magic only for her own pleasure, and now she wanted to keep little Gerda. And when the flower woman combed her hair, Gerda forgot Kay and did not want to look for him anymore. She went out into the flower garden and enjoyed the bright colours and the wonderful smell of the flowers.

Gerda heard the bright yellow mimosas singing: 

Do not touch us

for within us

there is a gentle princess.

Her sleep is disturbed

Because the pea presses

Now the prince obsesses

With having her as wife.

How good is to be so dainty!

Gerda found this funny and asked the strong elder bushes: 'Do you have something to tell as well?'

And then the elder began to sing:

In the faraway land of China,

The nightingale sang so beautifully.

The emperor asked it to come

and he listened to its ballads,

An artist made a mechanical copy

of the real bird.

It sang always the same ballad,

and the emperor liked it even more.

And when the emperor lay dying,

the real nightingale’s song brought him

back to life.

And then when Gerda went to the snowdrops and asked their story, they sang:

On one cold frosty winter night,

a tiny match was set alight.

A little girl tried to warm up,

she was so very poor, how sad.

She stayed cold, she did not warm up

and all her matches were used up.

But as the last match burned so bright,

Shining with a golden light

her grandmother appeared, who loved her,

and reached out her hand to her.

She takes her hand and calms her cries,

the girl kisses the snow and dies.

When Gerda heard that, she became terribly sad. She remembered her grandmother and began to cry heart-rending tears; and when her tears watered the earth, a rose-bush suddenly burst forth from the ground; and when she heard the roses singing, she remembered her friend Kay again.

She ran quickly to the garden gate and wanted to go out, but there were still the two trolls, they looked like wooden soldiers, and blocked her way. ‘You cannot hurt me!’ shouted Gerda. ‘You're only made of hollow wood!’ She ran past them and out into the world as fast as she could.

By now it was autumn. She had not noticed the passing of time in the magical garden.

Fourth Story: Prince and Princess

The world was gray and cold, and Gerda had to rest because her feet hurt. A crow came to sit with her and Gerda asked if it had seen her friend Kay. The crow responded excitedly:

‘Yes / Yes! Yes / Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes! He's with the princess.’

‘Which princess?’ Gerda asked, confused. And then the very wise crow told her how the very smart princess wished to marry, and how many thousands of men came to her. But no one was good enough, until she found someone who could multiply and divide as well as she did, and he was also funny and even vegan. And the princess took him married him. When Gerda heard that, she wanted to run right away, that sounded like her Kay. But the crow saw how tired the little girl was and told her to rest first and then to find Kay the next morning. And then Gerda noticed how tired she was, lay down and fell fast asleep.

In her dream she saw the snow-white and glittering palace of the Snow Queen. Everything was empty and icy, illuminated by the gleaming northern lights. There sat Kay, he was so cold he had turned blue, but he did not realize it, for the Snow Queen had kissed him so that he did not feel the chill.

And the Snow Queen stood before him and gave him a riddle:

‘Here we are in the mirror of the mind. Its shards of ice are signs of deep meaning. But one forms one particular word, the biggest and most important of all, and does not want to be put down. Kay, my Kay, you look sharper than the other boys. Your gaze is as clear as a snowflake. Your mind is as cool as your heart. Can you now put down the word for me? Then you shall be your own master, and I will give you the whole world, Kay. And a pair of new ice skates with it!’ Then Gerda saw the Snow Queen coming closer and closer to  Kay, she whispered something in his ear, and suddenly Gerda woke up from her nightmare.
Together with the crow she hurried to the castle of the princess. Via a secret back staircase, they entered her chamber. In the middle stood a large yellow bed covered with many pillows. On one side of the bed lay the princess and on the other side, little Gerda saw a blond head lying on the big pillow. "Kay!" She called out loud.

But it was not Kay: it was a young prince, and she wept bitterly and told the princess and the prince her sad story. Gerda told them about her dream; that Kay was with the Snow Queen. Then the prince and the princess took pity on the little girl and they gave her a golden carriage and horses and two coachmen who could drive the carriage and she got beautiful new clothes and a warm soft muff, because it was cold in the north. The prince and the princess wished Gerda good luck and the little girl whizzed away on the carriage.

Fifth Story: The Little Robber Girl

At full speed, the golden carriage rattled along a stony path. Gerda looked out the window. The crow had spoken of bare mountains on which they had to pass on their way north, but Gerda saw only dark fir trees and dense, thick forest. Then she heard her two coachmen laugh wildly; they were not ordinary drivers, they were the two young trolls who had followed little Gerda into the princess' palace. They had disguised themselves as coachmen and stolen Gerda's carriage because the Snow Queen had ordered them to stop Gerda from finding Kay.

As Gerda looked out of the carriage, she recognized the two: ‘I know you! You were with the flower woman ... and also at that time with Kay! Stop immediately!’ she cried. Gerda became frightened as the two trolls did not listen to her and drove faster and faster through the forest. They laughed and laughed and laughed and all at once they shouted "Stooooop!" The carriage jerked so much that Gerda almost fell out, and finally stopped, for a tree blocked their way.

Bang! Bang! Suddenly two loud shots sounded and when the two trolls heard, they jumped frantically off the carriage and hid themselves in the forest. A little robber girl had discovered the golden carriage and twice shot her pistol in the air. Laughing, she got onto the golden carriage and looked curiously at her catch.

Hesitantly, Gerda stepped out of the coach and said: ‘I'm not a princess, I'm Gerda! And I have no time, I have to keep going.’ But the robber girl did not want to hear that. She robbed little Gerda of her warm muff, lifted the girl onto the carriage, sat down beside her and drove the carriage to her robber's den. And as they drove through the dark forest, Gerda had to tell her about Kay.

When they arrived in the dark robber's den, she led little Gerda to a corner where straw and rugs lay. There were more than a hundred pigeons in cages. There was also a reindeer was tied to a pole. The animals all belonged to the little robber girl, they were tied up so they would not run away from her. Little Gerda was to stay with the robber girl and sleep in her bed.

Gerda anxiously asking the robber girl, ‘will you keep the knife when we go to sleep?’

‘My knife always stays with me! You never know what's coming! If Kay had had a knife when he was captured, he could have cut his little sled’s lead and escaped from the Snow Queen! Or even better: he could have stabbed the coachman! Now close your eyes.’ The robber girl put her arm around Gerda's neck, held the knife in her other hand, and slept, but Gerda did not even rest for five minutes, she did not know if she would live or die.

The forest pigeons said, ‘Coo, coo! Gerda! Gerda! We have seen Kay! The Snow Queen addressed him by name, they seemed to understand each other well. We flew past them in the sleigh!’

Gerda was glad and she asked curiously, ‘Do you know where she went with Kay?’

The reindeer interrupted, ‘Why are you asking the pigeons? Ask me! She traveled to Lapland, because that's it. There's always ice and white snow in Lapland.’

‘Now it's time to rest’, the robber girl scolded. ‘If you do not sleep right now, you'll sleep forever!’

Gerda suddenly straightened up and tore the knife from the robber girl's hand. ‘I have to continue! The pigeons have seen Kay, he was sitting in the sleigh of the Snow Queen, your reindeer says they have traveled to Lapland!'

'I have to go on’, she explained to the robber girl, who was now quite restless, because Gerda had stolen the knife from her. Then Gerda put the knife back on the ground.Reluctantly, the robber girl looked first at the knife and then at Gerda. Quickly she grabbed the knife, pointed it at Gerda, then put it in her pocket. Then she went to her reindeer and said. ‘Bring Gerda to Lapland for the Snow Queen and Kay, her friend!’ The reindeer jumped for joy and the robber girl lifted Gerda onto his back. She gave her her coat back and something to eat. ‘But the muff stays here! If you come over again with new goodies in the bag, I’ll get you again. I swear! Robber’s honour! Well, run! Run to Lapland!’

Sixth story: The Finnish Woman

They stopped at a small house, a very small house!  The roof went down to the ground, and the door was so low that you had to crawl on their bellies when they wanted to get in or out. Inside was an old woman warming up in her sauna. It was so hot inside that the woman herself was dressed only in light clothes; she was small and very dirty. She took Gerda's winter outerwear off, otherwise she would have been too hot, put a piece of ice on the reindeer's head and fed him. Now the reindeer and Gerda told their story, the clever old lady listened attentively but said nothing.

‘You are so smart. You know so much. You have the power to make Gerda as strong as twelve men. Then the Snow Queen will surely give way!’ the reindeer said to the old Finnish woman.

Then the old woman began to speak: ‘There was a bad troll, the Devil Troll, who created a bad mirror, he thought it was great! He said that it shows the world as it is! But really, the mirror was just stupid. Two trolls flew with it around the world and then into the sky. The mirror shook, they dropped it, and then it shattered into thousands of thousands and thousands more splinters of shards! Kay was hit very hard. A splinter of the mirror sits in his slowly and quietly dying heart, he feels neither cold, nor hunger, nor pain. He also has a shard in his eye, which makes him criticise everything. But it’s the Snow Queen’s kisses that draw the life out of him. Almost every feeling in him is already dead, his heart is frozen ... he is going to die soon!’

When they heard that, Gerda and the reindeer became terribly sad. The old woman had to have something that could help little Gerda on her search for Kay. ‘I cannot give her greater power than she already has in her loving heart,’ said the old Finnish woman. Gerda alone had to find her way to the Snow Queen and only she had the power deep in her heart to free her friend Kay from the broken glass.

So she set off alone as fast as she could and there came a whole regiment of snowflakes, these were the outposts of the Snow Queen. They grew bigger and more terrible and they had the strangest shapes; some looked like big hedgehogs, others like tangled snakes sticking out their heads and others like little fat bears with ruffled hair, all bright white, all of them living snowflakes. Gerda sang a song:

Keep on dancing! Keep on dancing!

You cannot harm me!

You are only made of snow, and all snow

has to melt one day and vanish

and become water and rest.

Keep on howling! Keep on howling!

I am not afraid of you!

Dawn is almost near!

When day comes your dancing will be over!

The sun will join your dance,

and then you will rest on her beams!

The sun! The sun rises!

And then a bright sunbeam broke through the thick snow clouds and gradually the flakes stopped dancing and Gerda hurried to the Queen's castle.

Seventh Story: In the Castle of the Snow Queen

The walls of the palace were formed of drifted snow, and the windows and doors were made by the cutting winds. There were more than a hundred rooms in it, the largest of them extended for several miles; they were all lighted up by the vivid shimmering of the aurora, and they were so large and empty, so icy cold and glittering! Gerda entered the palace through the gigantic entrance gate of the palace and passed two snow columns, which suddenly came to life. They were Clumsy Troll and Silly Troll, who hurriedly followed her into the palace.

In the midst of its empty, endless hall of snow was a frozen lake, broken on its surface into a thousand pieces. Each piece, itself a work of art, resembled another,  and in the centre of this lake the Snow Queen would sit, whenever she was at home. She called the lake “The Mirror of Reason,” and said that it was the best, and indeed the only one in the world.

Little Kay was quite blue with cold, indeed almost purple, but he did not feel it; for the Snow Queen had kissed away the icy shiverings, and his heart was already a lump of ice. He dragged some sharp, flat pieces of ice to and fro, and placed them together in all kinds of positions, as if he wished to make something out of them.

He looked at the pieces of ice and thought, ‘Everything has its end. How can there be something that always is? Everything can be justified. How can you find something that has no reason at all?’

He composed many complete figures, forming different words, but there was one word he never could manage to form, although he wished it very much. It was the word ‘Eternity.’ The Snow Queen had said to him, ‘When you can find out this word, you shall be your own master, and I will give you the whole world and a new pair of skates.’ But he could not accomplish it. He sat quite stiffly; one would have thought he had frozen to death.

Then Gerda entered the castle and saw Kay. She hugged him close and shouted, ‘Kay! Kay, you live! Oh Kay, what happened to you?’ But he sat quite still and cold - then little Gerda cried and sang her song about the roses:

" In a far-away garden

rare roses are waiting for you.

Deep in their blossoms

they timidly keep a secret for you.

You cannot see it

- Cannot hear it

you can only feel it in your heart.

If you want to hold it

- You have to let it go,

but if you let it into your heart

it will lead you through your life.

When will I see the far-away roses?

When will their secret be revealed?

As Gerda sang, the ice in his heart sang and the mirror shard that had settled in his heart dissolved. Then Kay burst into tears, and he wept so that the splinter of glass swam out of his eye. And when Kay was again the dear friend that Gerda had lost, she wanted to take him home quickly.

But Kay was terrified and said:

‘But Gerda, I cannot. I must not! The Snow Queen has instructed me to speak. The most important word of all! A word that includes everything. That solves even the most difficult puzzles. Only when I can put together the word ‘eternity’ does the Snow Queen release me again.’

Then Gerda laughed: ‘Eternity? But that's easy. Come on, I'll help you.’ Together they laid the word out of the ice shards of the Snow Queen and when they had the shards arranged in the right shapes, they heard the Snow Queen coming and there they grabbed each other by the hands and ran out of the castle as fast as they could.

The Snow Queen came rushing into the hall. She discovered the shapes of ice fragments, delighted she read the word ‘eternity’. But before she could look at it in silence, Silly Troll and Clumsy Troll rushed in to tell her about Gerda's entry into the palace. They did not notice that they were already too late, and stumbled with full force over the ice shards that formed the word ‘eternity.’ Even before they could read the word, for they were not quick readers because they had not been to Troll School for a long time, the ice piece got mixed up again and the word was destroyed.

The Snow Queen froze in anger. Desperately she wanted to put it back, but she could not succeed.

Kay and Gerda, however, wandered out of the castle and wherever they went, the winds rested and the sun came out. They walked hand in hand and rejoiced because it was summer, warm blessed summer!