Libretto by Ì.I. Tchaikovsky
after Henrik Hertz’ King René’s Daughter
Music Director and Conductor: Dmitri Jurowski
Stage Director: Irkin Gabitov
Set Designer, Costume Designer: Vyacheslav Okunev
Lighting Designer: Irina Vtornikova
Video content editor: Victoria Zlotnikova
Choreography: Anna Tikhomirova
Chief Chorus master: Vyacheslav Podyelsky
Assistant Conductor: Eldar Nagiev
Assistant Stage Director: Nikolai Natsybulin, Timofey Sokolov
Chorus master: Sergei Tenitilov
Executive Accompanist: Tatiana Smyslova
Accompanist in class: Tatiana Epishina, Ekaterina Misyura, Irina Nemova, Lyubov Salaeva, Maria Tremasova
Choral Accompanist: Inna Peters
Stage Manager: Oxana Zhegulskaya, Anna Shvedova, Anna Voroshilova, Lyubov Berezina
P. I. Tchaikovsky’s last opera, Iolanta, is rightfully considered one of the brightest and most lyric pieces of his repertoire. It was conceived in 1891 after Henrik Hertz’ King René’s Daughter, with libretto written by the composer’s brother Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The most charming aspect of Iolanta is the absence of inner conflicts and sufferings, or any dramatic confrontations. All we see is the protagonist’s inner world, full of light, harmony, patience and serenity.
“I’m going to write an opera that will make everyone weep”- said Tchaikovsky about Iolanta. Clearly, he succeeded, only the audience weep with joy and happiness for the characters. King René’s daughter Iolanta lost her sight when she was a little child. Driven by father’s immense love he prohibited everyone to talk about eyesight so that Iolanta thought she was not much different from all the others. She was raised with love and care and grew up to be tender and understanding princess, ignorant of the darkness surrounding her. But everything changed after an unexpected meeting with Count Vaudémont – he told the girl that her eyes are made not only for crying. King René tells Vaudémont that he will be executed unless his daughter recovers her sight. However, Iolanta’s tender heart makes her believe that one day she will be able to see the face of her brave knight.
King René and Duke of Burgundy have been at feud for many years, and finally they came to agreement. Their children – nine year old Robert and recently born Iolanta are to get married upon Iolanta’s sixteenth birthday. After the meeting King René’s palace was caught on fire and little Iolanta was saved only because she was thrown out of the window on the pillows placed beneath. The child made it out alive and unharmed except for one thing – later it became known that she had lost her eyesight.
The King got apprehensive that his ex-enemy might think the King knew about his daughter’s condition prior to concluding the agreement and that he might cancel it. To avoid that the King decides to conceal this incident, even from Iolanta.
In pursuit of his intention the King has built a luxurious palace in an isolate area and housed his ignorant daughter there, having her surrounded by tutors, servants and attendants. There were all instructed under penalty of death never to mention or to imply her disability.
Iolanta is about to come of age, which means she will have to get married. The princess lives in the palace with her friends under the care of nurse Marta and her husband Bertrand. She feels that she’s somehow different from people around her, but she can’t tell exactly how, since no one is allowed to mention light or the ability to see in her presence.
King René is desperate to find the cure for his daughter and thus he’s taking extreme measures of bringing in famous Moorish physician Ibn-Hakia. Iolanta’s friends soothe her so the physician could examine her in her sleep.
Having her examined, Ibn-Hakia announces his conclusion: in order to regain her sight Iolanta needs to learn about her disability and have her heart set on seeing the light again. King René is perplexed. On one hand he understands that the physician won’t perform surgery unless his demand is satisfied, on the other hand he feels how shocked his daughter will be and decides to keep it secret.
In the meantime Iolanta is sleeping on the terrace all alone, when she gets spotted by Vaudémont, young Count of Burgundy. He accompanies his friend Duke Robert, who is heading to King René’s court to meet his fiancé. They get lost to end up in a beautiful garden surrounding Iolanta’s palace.
Vaudémont is mesmerized by the girl’s enchanting appearance. Robert however stays cold to Iolanta’s beauty – he is in love with Matilda the Duchess of Lorraine “sparkling with her black eyes”. His soul is only darkened by one thing: time has come to enter into an agreement predetermined by his parents long time ago telling that now he is bound to marry King René’s daughter, whom he has never seen before. Robert is shattered by the impending separation with Matilda. Vaudémont tries to soothe him: “The King might want to cancel your marriage; they say he is so kind and wise!”
Iolanta wakes up to unknown voices. She asks the strangers who they are and where they are coming from when Vaudémont absently responds: “We got lost after travelling through mountains and plains…” The girl offers the knights some wine, but Robert refuses and leaves expecting a setup. Vaudémont is left alone with the girl. Getting more and more fascinated by her beauty, he expresses his admiration: “You come before me as a vision of pure and heavenly fairness…” Confused she listens to him while picking roses from the bush. Vaudémont asks her for a favor: “In order to remember this moment and distinguish it from a dream, would you be so kind to pick me a rose of the same high color as our cheeks.” Iolanta picks a white rose. “But I asked for a red one…” “Which one is that? I do not know.” Iolanta once again goes for a white bush. “How come?! Again you picked a white one!” – exclaims Vaudémont. Confused, Iolanta keeps picking white roses. “What do you mean by Red?”
“My God! She’s blind! Poor child!” – Vaudémont is stricken by an insight. Devotedly he describes the beauty of nature, of light that is the source of knowledge. For what it’s worth, the girl is not willing to regain her eyesight: “How can I wish for what I barely know?”
The King enters the garden to spot Iolanta in company with Vaudémont. King René is furious that the secret is revealed, but Ibn-Hakia reminds him that the first condition is fulfilled, and now it takes just one more to heal the girl.
The King addresses to extreme measures in order to encourage Iolanta to wish for her eyesight – he threatens the count with death sentence: “When Iolanta’s treatment fails, you die!” Fear for Vaudémont’s life, who’s become fair to her makes Iolanta long for seeing the light: “I will recover sight and he will live!” Ibn-Hakia now feels confident about the surgery.
Meanwhile Robert comes back with his entourage to save Vaudémont. Startled by a sudden encounter with the King he stumbles and Vaudémont begs him to tell the King about his feelings to Matilda. “My fate is now in your hands – tells Robert to the King – your word and I will call your daughter wife before the altar, but I will love Matilda till the end!”
Enters Bertrand telling the miracle has happened: Iolanta can see! The king is happy; he blesses his daughter’s marriage to Vaudémont. All praise the Lord.