Mariinsky II (New Theatre)
Performed in Russian, with synchronised English supertitles
World premiere: Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
Premiere of this production: 17 Apr 2009
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky after the play Kong Renes datter by Henrik Hertz
Co-production of the Festspielhaus Baden Baden
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky´s Iolanta and Sergei Vasilievich Rakhmaninov´s Aleko are, arguably, two of the most widely-loved Russian chamber operas. There performance together in one evening is first and foremost a tribute to these two great composers as well as an observance of the composer´s own wishes.
Iolanta was Tchaikovsky´s last opera, one of the most vivid and unusual works he wrote. The bibretto was created by the composer´s brother Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky after the drama King René´s Daughter by Danish playwright Henrik Hertz. At the composer´s own admission, he was seeking a subject “not of this world”, of purely lyrical quality and specifically for a chamber opera. He found all of this in Iolanta, which reflects Tchaikovsky´s moral and philosophical searches from the closing years of his life. The opera was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre on 6 December 1892.
Aleko, also composed in 1892, was Rakhmaninov´s graduation work for the Moscow Conservatoire. The complex conditions for writing the opera (the pre-prepared libretto was by Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko after Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin´s poem The Gupsy; nothing could be altered and there was a time limit – just one month could be spent on the score) did not prevent the young composer from becoming truly engaged in the subject. As Rakhmaninov later recalled, his opera drew Tchaikovsky´s attention and Tchaikovsky´s influence in Russia´s music circles was so great that at his advice the young composer´s opera was accepted for production by the Bolshoi Theatre. The premiere took place on 27 April 1893. After the stunning success of the opera, Tchaikovsky asked Rakhmaninov if he would agree to a combined production of Iolanta and Aleko at the Bolshoi Theatre in autumn the same year. Tchaikovsky´s unexpected death prevented this plan from coming to fruition…
Premiere: 18 December, 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.
SynopsisIolanta, King Rene’s daughter, is blind. But the girl herself as yet does not know she is blind: Rene has issued a decree by which it is forbidden for anyone to speak of sight or light in her presence. Her father, friends and elderly nurse are all polite and gentle towards Iolanta. The King never abandons hope of his daughter being cured, though he is worried at the idea that in order for this to happen Iolanta must learn that she is blind and that she must desire to be able to see. The knights Gottfried of Vaudemont and his friend Robert arrive at Iolanta’s peaceful refuge. Robert cares little for Iolanta, to whom he has been affianced since childhood, while Vaudemont falls completely in love with the girl. Left alone with Iolanta, Vaudemont asks for a red rose by which to remember her. The girl offers him a white rose and then Vaudemont guesses that she is blind and tells her of the beauty of the world she is missing due to her blindness. Vaudemont’s words, however, do not rouse any desire in Iolanta to be able to see. In despair, King Rene threatens Vaudemont with the death penalty should his daughter not be cured. Fear for the life of the man who has now become close to her awakens in Iolanta the willingness to agree to an operation that will restore her sight. In the meantime Robert admits to the King that he loves someone else and so cannot marry his daughter.
On discovering that Iolanta can now see, the King forgives Robert and releases him from his own sacred oath, agreeing to permit his daughter to marry Vaudemont. At the wedding, all of the guests sing a thankful hymn in praise of God.