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This article is about the Tchaikovsky opera. For the similarly named (but unrelated) comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, see Iolanthe.

Iolanta, Op. 69, (Russian: Иоланта) is a lyric opera in one act by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, his last. The libretto was written by the composer's brother Modest Tchaikovsky, and is based on the Danish play Kong Renés Datter (King René’s Daughter) by Henrik Hertz, a romanticised account of the life of Yolande de Bar. In the original Danish play, the spelling of the princess's name was "Iolanthe", which was a cause of confusion with the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta of that name.[1] The play was translated by Fyodor Miller and adapted by Vladimir Zotov. The opera received its premiere on 18 December 1892 in St. Petersburg.

Composition history[edit]

Composed after the completion of The Queen of Spades, Tchaikovsky worried that he had lost his creative inspiration after such a large project. He started Iolanta with the final duet in June 1891, and despite his worries, finished composition in September and orchestration in November. The public reception was quite favorable, though Tchaikovsky was disappointed and felt he was repeating himself, especially when compared to his earlier work, The Enchantress.

Performance history[edit]

The world premiere took place on 18 December (6 December O.S.) 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. It was conducted by Eduard Nápravník and sets were designed by Mikhail Bocharov.

The premiere of the opera shared a double bill with the composer's last ballet, The Nutcracker.

Its first performance outside Russia was in Hamburg on 3 January 1893, with Gustav Mahler conducting. Mahler also conducted the Vienna premiere on 22 March 1900.[2] In New York City it has been produced in 1997 and 2011 by Dicapo Opera.[3]

There are only a few recordings of the opera, although Robert's aria has been recorded and performed in concerts frequently. A 1963 performance was filmed in Riga and released overseas in 1974. A 1997 two-act version of Iolanta is performed regularly at the Bolshoi Theatre (13 nights during the 2006 season).[citation needed]


Role Voice type St. Petersburg Premiere,
18 December 1892
(6 December O.S.)
(Conductor: Eduard Nápravník)
René, King of Provence bass Konstantin Serebryakov
Robert, Duke of Burgundy baritone Leonid Yakovlev
Count Vaudémont, a Burgundian knight tenor Nikolay Figner
Ibn-Hakia, a Moorish physician baritone Arkady Chernov
Alméric, armor-bearer to King René tenor Vasily Karelin
Bertrand, doorkeeper of the castle bass Yalmar Frei
Iolanta, blind daughter of King René soprano Medea Mei-Figner
Marta, Bertrand's wife, Iolanta's nursemaid contralto Mariya Kamenskaya
Brigitta, Iolanta's friend soprano Aleksandra Runge
Laura, Iolanta's friend mezzo-soprano Mariya Dolina
Chorus, silent roles: Iolanta's servant-girls and friends, the king's retinue, the Burgundian Duke's regiment, men-at-arms



  • Strings: Violins I, Violins II, Violas, Cellos, and Double Basses
  • Woodwinds: Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, Cor Anglais, 2 Clarinets (B-flat & A), 2 Bassoons
  • Brass: 4 Horns (all in F), 2 Trumpets (B-flat, A), 3 Trombones, Tuba
  • Percussion: Timpani
  • Other: 2 Harps


Time: The 15th century

Place: The mountains of southern France

Scene 1[edit]

Iolanta has been blind from birth, but no one has ever told her, nor does she know she is a princess. She lives in a beautiful enclosed garden on the king's estate. 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.

Scene 2[edit]

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. She is betrothed to Duke Robert, who is also unaware of her blindness. The king arrives with Ibn-Hakia, a 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[edit]

Robert arrives at the court with his friend 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". Vaudémont finds the entrance to Iolanta's secret garden, ignoring the sign which threatens death to anyone who enters. He sees the sleeping Iolanta 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 discovers her blindness when he realises she cannot distinguish between red and white roses. They fall in love, after he explains light and color to her.

Scene 4[edit]

The couple is 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. After Vaudémont admits seeing the warning sign at the garden entrance, the king threatens to execute him. He tells Iolanta Vaudémont will die if the physician fails to restore her sight. Iolanta is horrified, and agrees to the treatment. After Ibn-Hakia leaves with Iolanta, the king tells Vaudémont that he has no intention of executing him, but wanted to give his daughter the motivation to see. 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. She sings of the magical new world now visible to her. The court rejoices.

Principal arias and numbers[edit]

  • Arioso: "Why haven't I known this before?" "Отчего это прежде не знала" (Iolanta)
  • Aria: "Two worlds" "Два мира" (Ibn-Hakia)
  • Aria: "Who can be compared with my Matilda?" "Кто может сравниться с Матильдой моей" (Robert)


No. 1: Scena
No. 1a: Iolanta's Arioso
No. 2: Scena & Chorus
No. 3: Scena & Chorus
No. 4: Scena
No. 4a: King René's Aria
No. 5: Scena
No. 5a: Ibn-Hakia's Monologue
No. 6: Scena
No. 6a: Robert's Aria
No. 6b: Vaudemont's Romance
No. 7: Scena & Duet
No. 8: Scena
No. 9: Finale


  • 1977, Tamara Sorokina (Iolanta), Yevgeny Nesterenko (René), Yuri Mazurok (Robert, Duke of Burgundy), Vladimir Atlantov (Vaudémont), Vladimir Valaitis (Ibn-Hakia), Alexander Arkhipov (Alméric), Valery Yaroslavtsev (Bertrand), Nina Grigorieva (Martha), Clara Kadinskaya (Brigitta), Larisa Nikitina (Laura). Bolshoi Theatre Soloists & Chorus and Orchestra, Mark Ermler. Melodiya. No libretto.
  • 1984, Galina Vishnevskaya (Iolanta), Nicolai Gedda (Vaudémont), Walton Gronroos (Robert), Tom Krause (Ibn-Hakia), Dimiter Petkov (René), James Anderson (Alméric), Fernand Dumont (Bertrand), Viorica Cortez (Martha), Tania Gedda (Brigitta). Groupe Vocal de France & Orchestre de Paris, Mstislav Rostropovich
  • 1994, Galina Gorchakova, Sergei Alexashkin, Gegam Grigorian, Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Conductor Valery Gergiev Kirov Theatre. Philips.
  • 1996, Tatiana Vorjdova (Iolanta), Alexei Levitski (René), Vassili Gorshkov (Vaudémont), Vladimir Prudnik (Ibn-Hakia), Sergei Nikitin (Robert), Tatiana Gorbunova (Martha) Novosibirsk State Opera Orchestra, Alexei Ludmilin. Brilliant.


  • 1963, Galina Oleinichenko, Ivan Petrov, Bolshoi. Boris Khaikin
  • 1982, Galina Kalinina, Artur Eisen. VAI.
  • 2012, Ekaterina Scherbachenko, Pavel Cernoch. Teatro Real de Madrid. Teodor Currentzis

Operadis discography


  1. ^ Henry Irving had produced a version of King René's Daughter in 1880, in London, under the name Iolanthe, so Gilbert asked his producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, to request Irving's permission to use the name. See Ainger, Michael. Gilbert and Sullivan – A Dual Biography, Oxford University Press (2002), p. 212; and Bradley, Ian. The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, Oxford University Press (1996), p. 364
  2. ^ Gustav Mahler chronology 1891–1900
  3. ^ Wheeler, Victor (2011). "Dicapo Opera – Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta". Retrieved 2011-12-18. 
  4. ^ Tchaikovsky Research

External links[edit]