The operas of Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) has really been propping up since the 1940s, thanks to conductors such as Nikolai Golovanov, Vassily Nebolshin, Yevgeni Svetlanov, Vladimir Fedoseyev, and finally Valery Gergiev. There recordings were important since they give us the idea of the true essence of the composer: his operas. Forget Cappricio Espanol, Scherharazade, and the Russian Easter overture. His most important and influential contributions were in his operas and Rimsky-Korsakov was among the giant of middle-to-late 19th century opera (as with Wagner, Massenet, Verdi). Rimsky-Korsakov made the most contributions in Russian opera, as a composer and as editor/completist of operas of Dargomyzhsky, Mussorgsky, and Borodin.
Kashchey the Immortal of 1901 (premiered by 1902), as with the Invisible City of Kitesh, and the Golden Cockeral, departs from the idiom of the late 19th Century where folkmusic dominated. Instead, the idiom, not only Wagnerian, is advanced and not far from the Scriabinian mysticism so much alive and longlasting. There's something else, however. The late operas began to symbolize the growing discontent with the Tsarist Regime (especially the Golden Cockeral) and his students began to use his operas in denouncing Tsar Nicholas II. Alexander Glazunov, for example, conducted Kaschchey the Immortal by 1906 with student singers and student orchestra of the St. Petersburg Conservatory as a form of defiance against the Tsar, before the police distrupted the performance and dispersed the musicians and the audience alike.
The importance of Rimsky-Korsakov's operas (whether early or late) cannot be overlooked and Valery Gergiev and the Maryinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra and Chorus had, in the 1990s, done the composer a great justice in reminding us of that importance. Their performance of Kashchey the Immortal where done with upmost vividness and imagination, with the great ability in depicting the story behind this interesting work. Konstantin Pluzhnikov (as Kaschey the Immortal) sang with command and a clear depiction of his character: very convincing and telling. Marina Shagugh sang with affection and really brought out the anguish and tormentation of the Princess longing for a happier, fulfilling life. Larissa Dyadkova, the Irina Arkhipova of the 1990s, portrayed Kascheyevna as torn between her sympathy towards the Princess and her loved one, Prince Ivan Korolevich (well-played by Alexander Gergalov) and the well-being of her father (Kaschey the Immortal). A predicament no doubt, for if Kashcheyevna shows emotions and weeps tears, her father will face mortality (and it did happened at the end). Finally, Alexander Morozov sang the Storm Knight with sterness and vividness.
My recommendation is to play Kashchey the Immortal with Bartok's Bluebeard Castle. You'll find some interesting and disquieting parallelisms between the two.
My hope is that the recordings of Golovanov, Nebolshin, Svetlanov, and Fedoseyev of Rimsky-Korsakov's operas will be re-issued and released (and soon!). For instance, Nebolshin's recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh is by far the best recording ever made whereas Golovanov's recordings of the composer's Sadko (and Christmas Eve) are among the best this century has to offer. Svetlanov's recording of Mlada and the Golden Cockeral and Fedosyev's recording of the Snow Maiden are among the gemstones of Russian Operetic recordings.
Nevertheless, this Philips recording of Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra and Chorus is highly recommended, with no apologies!