Applied Opera — Iolanta (Tchaikovsky)

With the opera Iolanta, by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Opera, Blood , and Tears begins the new series Applied Opera. The intention is to consider which lessons the world of opera can impart to the social and individual life.

Iolanta —- a lyric opera in one act

Music: Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky
Libretto: Modest Tchaikovsky
Based on the play “King René’s Daughter, by Henrik Hertz
Premiere: December 18 1892, Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg


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.

Opera, Blood, and Tears
Applied Opera — “Iolanta”
January 4 at 10pm EST
on Clubhouse

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

Tchaikovsky’s romantic fairy tale obviously has a moral. And the voice to manifest this idea belongs to Moorish physician Ibn-Hakia. He is the one to explain the interdependence of the mind and the body within the universe, which merges spirit and matter. And the whole subsequent performance was created to display what it means.

Source: opera wire

Libretto excerpt 

Look, something has been written here:
“A warning to the frightened reader - turn back,
the dread penalty for entering this place is death.”

Robert, what have we found? Tell me!

I do not understand the meaning of this.

Let’s leave!

No, heaven preserve us,
I will not go from this Garden of Eden!
I have no wish to journey to distant places,
across hills, through forests!
We have done enough of such wandering.

But supposing someone comes and finds us in this place?

So what?
Ele’d fly into a rage and then cease;
we’d quiet his anger with a sword!
Yes, and then:
the longer I defer claiming Iolanta’s hand from King Rene, the better it is for me.
Oh, if she could just vanish without trace!
I’d even be glad to go missing, so as not to see my betrothed!

The king would probably agree to the withdrawal of your proposal.
He is so good and wise, they say!

Ah, yes, if only, Vaudemont!

I know, I know; but what if she is charming?

Who? Iolanta?


I expect she’s so prim and proud...
Nuns are a mystery to me, don’t you know?
With all their “benedicite” and “amen”
they are as cold and heartless as stone itself.
Who can compare with my own darling Mathilde,
dazzling beauty with lights in her jet-black eyes,
like the stars in the skies of autumnal nights?
She overflows with passion’s delightful bliss, the pleasure she brings goes to my head and she sets me aglow, like wine.
Just a single glance from her burns me like lightning and my blood is made redder by love’s flame!
Then she will suddenly laugh, or burst into song, and a row of pearls will light up her face.
Her eyes show passion that’s warm, exuberant, wild, enticing me to surrender to rapture. to the rapture of kisses and of mad desires, to the tender touch of her hand, white as the snow, to forget my sorrows and find joys untold, that know no bounds or end!
Who can compare with my own darling Mathiide, etc.

The charming attentions of a spirited beauty tempt me not, tender passion would not be stirred in me by soft looks promising bliss. . .
Immersed in the midnight stillness, the love within me falls to dreaming. . . of an angel who is chaste, heavenly, meek and wondrous to behold... who has the grace and dignity of an untainted goddess, with eyes that are full of kindness and angelic innocence... a guest from a celestial place, brighter than the vernal snow, purer than lily of the valley, more delicate than lilies - that is what I wait and long for!
Oh, come to me, bright vision, love’s inspiration, warm the secret strings of my heart, bring them to life!
As the storm clouds part, let your light shine through into the gloom of my ardent soul, oh, tarry not!
Oh, come to me, bright vision, l am waiting for you!
Oh! My heart is weary, I’m waiting, hurry to me!
I’m waiting for you, bright angel, come, oh, come!

But where on earth are we?
What sorcerer lives in such a paradise?
Robert, look, someone has left dainty footprints. . .

Doubtless some fairy or other. . .

They lead towards the terrace.

Knock at the door!

(Vaudemont climbs onto the terrace.)
The door wasn’t locked and opened immediately, I hardly even had to touch it.

Look in... what’s there?

Lord God! Robert, Robert!
Oh, what do I see?

An enchantress?

No, an angel!
Heavens! How beautiful she is!

Make way, then: let me see!
(He looks in the door.)
She’s nothing but a little girl!

You must be blind! How cold were your words!
Oh, look again! How can this vision of virginal beauty not bring a thrill of delight to your heart?

Let’s go! I think that it’s dangerous for us to stay here.
The strange slumbers of that pretty girl are somehow unnatural!
What’s the matter? You’ve turned pale, Vaudemont!

Lord God!
How divinely peaceful she looks!

He’s bewitched. Godefroy!
Answer me! Let’s fly from here!
Be quick to shake off that spell, follow me now!

Silence, Robert!
Disturb not the sleep of this serene and heavenly being!

Whatever may happen, 1 will save you,
1 won’t allow you to remain here.

Do not open your eyes
Their lustre would be blinding.
Oh, let me lose myself, admiring you!
My God, Robert, she has awoken, that’s your doingl

(He runs down from the terrace.)
She is coming hither

(trying to drag Vaudemont away)
I will make sure that she does not lay a hand on you.
Let’s run, quickly!

(breaking free)
No, never, never!

(Iolanta enters and stops at the top of the terrace.)
Who’s there?

A Burgundian knight, and. . .

(restraining Vaudemont)
Don’t tell her who we are...
say nothing!

(eluding Robert)
My name Is Vaudemont.


Your voices are unfamiliar. . . I don’t know them. . .
Who are you?

We lost our way, passing through forest and undergrowth.

I expect you’re weary, then?
I ’ll go and get some wine for you, it will restore your vigour.
(She goes to fetch wine.)

Oh, paradise!

No, it’s a trap!
Death hovers over us, my dear friend!
!t won’t take me so easily, life is dearer than the grave.
You stay here and I’ll make all haste.
I’ll find a brave band of men and, with them. I’ll come to save you and your beautiful maiden!
Do not fear, wait for me, farewell!

(Exit Robert Iolanta returns, carrying two goblets of wine.)
Here is some wine, good knights, it is what my father likes.

(Vaudemont takes a goblet and looks intently
at Iolanta.)

(Could it possibly destroy me?)
So be it!
From those hands, I’d joyfully accept death!
(He drinks the wine. Iolanta continues
to hold out the tray, expecting Robert to take
the other goblet.)

Where is your friend? I was glad of his company.

My friend has gone, but he will return.

(placing the tray on a table)
Gone? What a shame...

What a shame? Why?

I 'm glad of the company of all who come here;
I’m rarely alone.
My friends must have left me just now, while I was
sleeping. And, it seems, none of them yet knows
that I am now awake.

It was I who woke you from your sleep, forgive me!
You lay before me like a vision of beauty, heavenly and pure, like the image from a sweet dream, inspiration’s chaste embodiment.
My involuntary cry of joy awoke you and, before my eyes, rose heaven’s angel, here on earth!
But I see that you are no vision and fate has ordained that you’ll live, be loved, know torment and feel love!
(Confused and embarrassed, Iolanta walks over to a rose bush and picks some blooms.)

I do not understand what you say. . .
I do not know. . . and yet your words sound so strangely pleasing to the ear, they have quite made my head spin. . . it is strange!
Emotion is stirring in my heart and so, too, is a terrible doubt: should I be listening to you?
What for? Why are you praising me so?
This is the first time you have met me.

Your wish, to me, is a command, henceforth I’ll hide my ardor from you, but, to prove this was no dream, no illusion of joy, as a parting gift, give me a (red) rose from your bush; it will remind me of our meeting and of the ruddy glow in your cheeks!

(Iolanta picks a white rose and gives it to him.)
But I asked you for a red rose. . .

What sort of rose is that? I don’t know.

(pointing to a bush of red roses)
I asked for one of those roses.

You want which rose? I don’t understand.
Give me back the one I gave you, and I will pick another for you.

Oh, no! Like you, it is so fair, I will keep it as a memento, a symbol of your purity.
Pick me a red rose, I pray, both blooms will be as arms upon my shield and I'll be true to them till I die.

I’d be only too happy to give you another rose.
(She picks another white one.)

How come?
Once more you gave me a white rose. Again?
(Confused, Iolanta plucks yet another white rose.)
1 asked you to pick a red one!

What does the word “red” mean?

A dreadful thought! Tell me, (plucking a handful of roses) how many roses have 1 picked?

(holding out her hand)
Well, come on then! Give them to me!
Where are they?
(Vaudemont, recoiling in horror, does not give her the roses.)
You’re playing games. . . It’s not difficult. . .

No! Tell me without touching. . .

Without touching? Surely I can touch?

(Lord God in heaven! She is blind! Poor, ill-fated one!)
Well, come on! Where are your flowers?
Oh, good knight, where, indeed, are you?
1 do not understand your silence;
I do not know what I can have said to have caused you any offence. . .
Tell me, what am I guilty of?
I rarely come upon strangers here, there’s still so much I have to learn; be my teacher, I’m young, I will be an obedient pupil!
You’re silent? You want to leave me?
So be it, then!
Your wish, to me, is a command; I will hide my sorrow from the world.
(She breaks down in tears.)

(taking her hands)
Dear child, oh no, please do not cry!

So you haven’t gone yet?

Poor, sweet maid!
Tell me, can it be that you have never, even just once or twice, been struck by the thought that fate, both formidable and cruel, has deprived you of a valuable gift?
Have you really never known the reason why you have eyes which shine without life’s lustre?
(touching her eyes)
Why have I been given eyes?
Well, so that I can cry...

Cry in night’s eternal darkness!

But don’t you know that, if you can shed tears, sorrow lingers less, passing more readily?
So, in nature, after the summer’s storms everything seems somehow fresher and brighter.
Oh, so your heart does not nurture the desire to see light and the universe’s glory?

What does “to see’’ mean?

To know the light of God.

Good knight, tell me, what is “light”?

Creation’s wonderful first-born, the Lord’s first gift to the world, God’s glory made manifest, the loveliest pearl in His crown!
The sun, the sky and shining stars fill the world, our earthly home, all of nature and creation with unspeakable beauty!
Anyone who does not know the joy of light cannot so love God’s world, coloured black, nor honour Him in darkness, as in light!
By His light, I, unworthy soul, saw you, o lovely maiden, your chaste and slender figure, sweet features and endearing look; yes, it is creation’s first-born, the Lord’s best gift to the world.

Your words are so strange!
I know not what’s come over me!
Never in my life have I known such happiness as this. But, no, no, no, you are quite wrong!
To praise God eternally, good knight, I do not need the light: the goodness of the Lord is without end, it knows no limits!
The day’s warmth, the fragrance and sounds of nature, and I, myself, reveal, as do all creatures, God, unseen and benevolent!
Can anyone see the twittering of birds in a rose-bush, or the gentle babbling of a stream coursing swiftly on sand?

Yes! ’Tis true!
The Lord’s goodness is without end, it knows no limits!
You speak the truth!

Can you see the rumbling thunder in the sky, or the trill of a nightingale, can anyone see a flower’s scent, your voice, the words you say?
No, to praise God eternally, good knight, I need not the light!

Oh, you’re right, my dear, the great torch of truth shines within your heart, and, before it, our earthly home is transient and trifling.
I believe that even those not blessed with light can honour God!
The Lord’s goodness is without end!
It knows no boundaries!

But, to be like you,
I would like to see the light of the sun.
For that is creation’s first-born, the Lord’s first gift to the world, God’s glory made manifest, the loveliest pearl in His crown!

No. 8 Scene
(from inside the pavilion)

(heeding their calls)
My friends are calling me. Martha!
"They are surprised that I am already awake.

Iolanta! Where are you?

(from inside the pavilion)
Where’s my daughter?

That’s the voice of my father!
He’s here! I’m sure you will know him!

(enter running)

Where are you?


Heavens! She’s with a knight unknown to us!

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