The Nightingale (opera)
The Nightingale (Russian: Соловей, French: Le rossignol) is a Russian conte lyrique in three acts by Igor Stravinsky. It is generally known by its French name. The libretto, based on the tale of The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen, was written by the composer and Stepan Mitussov.
Stravinsky had begun work on the opera in 1908, but put it aside for several years after he had received the commission from Sergei Diaghilev for the ballet The Firebird. He completed it in 1914, after he had completed his other two major ballets for Diaghilev, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky subsequently turned aside from large productions to concentrate on chamber music and the piano.
The opera's first performance was on 26 May 1914 in the Théâtre National de l'Opéra in Paris, in a production by Sergei Diaghilev, with the singers in the pit and their roles mimed and danced on stage. Stravinsky later prepared a symphonic poem, Le chant du rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale), using music from the opera, in 1917, as a separate concert work.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 26 May 1914
|Nightingale (Соловей)||coloratura soprano||Aurelia Dobrovolska|
|Fisherman (Рыбак)||tenor||Aleksandr Varfolomejev|
|Cook (Кухарочка)||soprano||Maria Brian|
|Emperor (Император)||bass||Pjotr Pavel Andrejev|
|Chamberlain (Камергер)||bass||Aleksandr Belianin|
|Bonze (Бонза)||bass||Nikolaj Goulajev|
|Death (Смерть)||contralto||Elisabeth Petrenko|
|1st Japanese emissary (Японский посол 1)||soprano||Mamsina|
|2nd Japanese emissary (Японский посол 2)||bass||Vasilj Saranov|
|3rd Japanese emissary (Японский посол 3)||tenor||Fodor Ernst|
The setting is ancient China. The fisherman (tenor) acts as commentator on the story's events.
At the seashore just before sunrise, a fisherman hears the song of the nightingale, which causes him to forget his troubles. The cook (soprano) has brought officials from the court of the emperor to hear the nightingale (soprano), telling of the beauty of its singing. However, the nightingale is nowhere to be heard. The court chamberlain (baritone) promises the cook a position as private cook to the emperor, if she can find the nightingale. The nightingale does finally appear, and receives an invitation from the cook and the chamberlain to sing for the emperor. The nightingale accepts the invitation, but says that its sweetest song is in the forest.
Courtiers festoon the palace with lanterns in advance of the singing of the nightingale. The cook tells the courtiers about the nightingale, that it is small, gray and virtually invisible, but its song causes its listeners to cry. A procession denotes the emperor's arrival, and the emperor (bass-baritone) commands the nightingale to sing. The singing touches the emperor deeply, and he offers the bird a reward of a golden slipper to wear about its neck. Later, three Japanese emissaries offer the emperor a mechanical nightingale, which begins to sing. The genuine bird flies away, and the angry emperor orders it banished from his realm. He names the mechanical bird "first singer".
The emperor is ill and near death. The figure of Death is in the emperor's chamber. The ghosts of the emperor's past deeds visit him. The emperor calls for his court musicians, but the genuine nightingale has reappeared, in defiance of the imperial edict, and begun to sing. Death (contralto) hears the nightingale's song and is greatly moved, and asks it to continue. The nightingale agrees, on condition that Death returns to the emperor his crown, sword and standard. Death assents and gradually removes himself from the scene as the nightingale continues to sing. The emperor slowly regains his strength, and on seeing the nightingale, offers it the "first singer" post at court. The nightingale says that it is satisfied with the emperor's tears as reward, and promises to sing for him each night from dusk until dawn.
- Stravinsky: Le rossignol – Phyllis Bryn Julson (The Nightingale), Neil Howlett (The Emperor), Felicity Palmer (The Cook), Elizabeth Laurence (Death), Michael George (The Bonze), Ian Caley (The Fisherman), John Tomlinson (The Chamberlain), BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra; Pierre Boulez (conductor). Label: Erato Disques CD
- Stravinsky: The Nightingale - Olga Trifonova (The Nightingale), Paul Whelan (The Emperor), Pippa Longworth (The Cook), Sally Burgess (Death), Andrew Greenan (The Bonze), Robert Tear (The Fisherman), Stephen Richardson (The Chamberlain), London Voices, Philharmonia Orchestra, Robert Craft (Conductor). Label: Naxos CD (44:30)
- M.D. Calvocoressi, "M. Igor Stravinsky's Opera: The Nightingale, The Musical Times, 55 (856), 372-374.