Recorded on 12/31/1969, uploaded on 04/09/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Tchaikovsky’s last opera, Iolanta, premiered in St. Petersburg on December 18, 1892 as part of a double-bill program that also included The Nutcracker ballet. Both works had been commissioned by the Director if Imperial Theatres and hesitantly accepted by Tchaikovsky. In regards to The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky was felt the plot unsuited for ballet and irritated with the exacting demands made by the ballet’s choreographer; with Iolanta, however, the composer felt himself drained creatively after the much larger The Queen of Spades. Nevertheless, Iolanta was received favorably with its premiere, even though Tchaikovsky himself was disappointed with it.
The libretto for Iolanta was provided by his brother Modest and was based on the Danish play Kong Renés Datter (King Rene’s Daughter) by Henrik Hertz. The play was a romanticized telling of the life of Yolanda de Bar, the Duchess of Lorraine. In it she is portrayed as blind from birth (though in reality there is no such account that her vision was ever impaired). Yolanda’s father has kept the knowledge of her blindness, and also that she is a princess, from her to prevent her from being unhappy. However, she is aware that she is missing something in the world that others can experience. One day a Moorish physician arrives and tells Yolanda’s father that there is an operation that can restore her eyesight, but a prerequisite is that her spirit must be ready to accept the notion of light. Vaudémont, friend of Yolanda’s betrothed, discovers her sleeping in her secret garden and falls instantly in love with her. Discovering that she is blind, he explains light and color to her. When the king discovers the couple, Vaudémont proclaims his love for Iolanta, regardless of her blindness. The Moorish physician states that the operation may be successful. In a crafty manner, the king bolsters Iolanta’s spirits and increases the incentive for the operation to be successful by threatening Vaudémont that if the operation fails he’ll have him executed. However, he secretly assures Vaudémont that he has no intention of doing so. The operation is successful and the king cancels her betrothal and gives Iolanta to Vaudémont. Joseph DuBose
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