Iolanta (Tchaikovsky) premiered today in 1892

Princess Iolanta, the King's daughter, has been blind from birth, and lives in a castle in isolated splendour. She has never been allowed to know that she is different from other people, or even that she is a princess. Her friends bring her flowers and sing her to sleep. Almeric, the King's armour bearer, announces the King's arrival and Bertrand, the palace gatekeeper, warns him not to speak of light in Iolanta's presence, or to tell her that her father is the King. Iolanta is betrothed to Robert, Duke of Burgundy, who does not know of her blindness. The King brings a Moorish doctor, Ebn-Hakia, who insists that Iolanta must learn of her disability and wish to see, before he can treat her. The King firmly refuses. At nightfall two knights arrive to the castle. One of them is Robert, and the other is his comrade in arms, Count Vaudémont. They stumble into Iolanta's garden, ignoring the signs warning them to keep out. Robert is in love with someone else, and hopes that the King will release him from his vow. Vaudémont sees Iolanta, and falls in love with her. Robert fears that she is a sorceress, and goes off to gather his troops. Iolanta picks flowers for Vaudémont, but gives him white ones when he asks for red. He realises she is blind and attempts to explain sight to her. They are discovered. Vaudémont swears he loves Iolanta, whether she is blind or not. Her desire to see is not strong enough, so the King threatens to execute Vaudémont if the treatment is unsuccessful. After the treatment has begun, the King releases Vaudémont, revealing that the threat was only an attempt to increase his daughter's desire to see. Robert arrives and admits that he loves another. The King releases him from his promise and gives Iolanta to Vaudémont. When the bandages are removed from her eyes, Iolanta can see her surroundings. General rejoicing. 

Source: Tchaikovsky Research

15th century Mountains of southern France

Scene 1
Princess Iolanta has been blind from birth. No one has ever told her (nor does she know) that she is a princess. She lives in a beautiful enclosed garden on the king's estate, secluded from the world, in the care of Bertrand and Martha. Her attendants bring flowers and sing to her. She declares her sadness, and her vague sense that she is missing something important that other people can experience. Her father, King René insists that she not discover she is blind, or that her betrothed, Duke Robert, find out about this.

Scene 2
After announcing the king's arrival, Alméric is warned by Bertrand not to speak of light with Iolanta or to reveal that Iolanta's father is the king. The king arrives with Ibn-Hakia, a famed Moorish physician who states that Iolanta can be cured, but the physical cure will only work if she is psychologically prepared by being made aware of her own blindness. Ibn-Hakia sings the monologue "Two worlds", explaining the interdependence of the mind and the body within the divinely ordained universe, which merges spirit and matter. The king refuses the treatment, fearing for Iolanta's happiness if the cure should fail after she has learned what she is missing.

Scene 3
Robert arrives at the court with his friend Count Vaudémont. Robert tells Vaudémont that he wishes to avoid the marriage as he has fallen in love with Countess Matilde. He sings of his love in his aria "Who can compare with my Mathilde" (Кто может сравниться с Матильдой моей). Vaudémont finds the entrance to Iolanta's secret garden, ignoring the sign which threatens death to anyone who enters. He sees the sleeping Iolanta, without realising who she is and instantly falls in love. Robert, astounded by his friend's behavior, is convinced she is a sorceress who has bewitched Vaudémont. He tells him to leave, but Vaudémont is too entranced. Robert departs to bring troops to rescue him. Iolanta awakes and Vaudémont, who asks her to give him a red rose as a keepsake, realizes she is blind when she twice offers him a white one. She has no concept of light, vision or blindness. They fall in love, after he explains light and color to her.

Scene 4
The couple are discovered by the king. Vaudémont pledges his love, whether Iolanta is blind or not. Ibn-Hakia tells the king that as Iolanta is now aware of her blindness, the treatment might be a success. Iolanta who has no will to see, is unsure therefore whether she should agree to treatment or not. Ibn-Hakia points out that the lack of will proves that, without inner desire, change cannot take place. 

After Vaudémont admits seeing the warning sign at the garden entrance, the furious king threatens to execute him for revealing the truth to Iolanta. He tells Iolanta Vaudémont will die if the physician fails to restore her sight, in the hope that this will restore her will. Iolanta is horrified, and agrees to the treatment. After Ibn-Hakia leaves with Iolanta, the king explains to Vaudémont that he was feigning in order to motivate Iolanta. Robert returns with his troops. He admits to the king he has fallen in love with another, but is still willing to go ahead with the agreed marriage. The king cancels the wedding contract, and gives Iolanta to Vaudémont. Ibn-Hakia and Iolanta return. The treatment has worked and Iolanta can see. At first uncertain of her new gift, she eventually sings of the magical new world now visible to her. The court rejoices.

Source: The Opera Hub

René – Bass
King of Provence

Robert – Baritone
Duke of Burgundy

Count Vaudémont – Tenor
A Burgundian knight

Ibn-Hakia – Baritone
A Moorish physician

Alméric – Tenor
Armor-bearer to King René

Bertrand – Bass
Doorkeeper of the castle

Iolanta – Soprano
Blind daughter of King René

Marta – Contralto
Bertrand's wife, Iolanta's nursemaid

Brigitta - Soprano
Iolanta's friend

Laura - Mezzo-soprano
Iolanta's friend

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