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Opera by Tchaikovsky
Mikhailovsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg (2010)
Native title
Russian: Иоланта
LibrettistModest Tchaikovsky
Based onKong Renés Datter
by Henrik Hertz
18 December 1892 (1892-12-18)

Iolanta, Op. 69, (Russian: Иоланта listen) is a lyric opera in one act by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. It was the last opera he composed. 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", later adopted for the otherwise unrelated 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 Saint Petersburg.

Composition history


Composing upon the completion of The Queen of Spades, Tchaikovsky worried that he had lost his creative inspiration after such a large project. He started Iolanta in June 1891 with the central duet, 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


The world premiere took place on 18 December (6 December O.S.) 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint 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. A 1997 two-act version of Iolanta is performed regularly at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow,[2] and in Belarus.[3]

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.[4] In New York City it has been produced in 1997 and 2011 by Dicapo Opera.[5] In 2015, Iolanta was performed for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, with Anna Netrebko in the title role.[6]

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.

The blind singer Nafset Chenib (headliner of the 2014 Winter Paralympics closing ceremony [7][8]) performed in the title role in the Ivangorod Fortress on 29 August 2021.[9][10]


Role Voice type Saint 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



The instrumentation requires the following forces:[11]

  • Strings: violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses
  • Woodwinds: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 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: 15th century

Place: 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 must not discover she is blind, nor 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 awakens 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 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. Iolanta, who has no will to see, is unsure whether she should agree to the 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 that 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.

Principal arias and numbers

  • Scene 1a. Iolanta's Arioso (Ариозо Иоланты): "Why haven't I known this before?" "Отчего это прежде не знала – Otchevo eto prezhde ne znala"
  • Scene 5b. Ibn-Hakia's Monologue (Монолог Эбн-Хакиа): "Two worlds" "Два мира (Dva mira)"
  • Aria: "Who can be compared with my Matilda?" "Кто может сравниться с Матильдой моей – Kto mozhet sravnit'sa s Matil'doy moyey" (Robert)


No. 1: Scena (Marta) "Мой птенчик, Иоланта, ты устала? – Moy ptenchik, Iolanta, ty ustala?"
No. 1a: Iolanta's Arioso "Отчего это прежде не знала – Otchego eto prezhde ne znala"
No. 2a: Scena (Marta) "Полно, не надо, родная, попусту душу томить! – Polno, ne nado, rodnaya, popustu dushu tomit'!"
No. 2b: Chorus (Brigitta, Laura, Maidservants) "Вот тебе лютики, вот васильки – Vot tebe lyutiki, vot vasil'ki"
No. 3a: Scena (Iolanta) "Бригитта, это ты? – Brigitta, eto ty?"
No. 3b: Chorus (Brigitta, Laura, Marta) "Спи, пусть ангелы крылами навевают сны – Spi, pust' angely krylami navevayut sny"
No. 4a: Scena (Bertrand) "Призывный рог! – Prizyvnyy rog!"
No. 4b: King René's Aria "Господь мой, если грешен я – Gospod' moy, yesli greshen ya"
No. 5a: Scena (King René) "Твое лицо бесстрастно – Tvoye litso besstrastno"
No. 5b: Ibn-Hakia's Monologue "Два мира: плотский и духовный – Dva mira: plotskiy i dukhovnyy"
No. 6a: Scena (Robert) "Не торопись – Ne toropis'"
No. 6b: Robert's Aria "Кто может сравниться с Матильдой моей – Kto mozhet sravnit'sya s Matil'doy moyey"
No. 6c: Vaudemont's Romance "Нет! Чары ласк красы мятежной – Net! Chary lask krasy myatezhnoy"
No. 7a: Scena (Vaudemont) "Однако где же мы? – Odnako gde zhe my?"
No. 7b: Duet (Vaudemont, Iolanta) "Вы мне предстали как виденье – Vy mne predstali kak viden'ye"
No. 8: Scena (Marta, Laura, Brigitta, Maidservants) "Иоланта! – Iolanta!"
No. 9: Finale (King René) "Прости меня, я обманул тебя – Prosti menya, ya obmanul tebya"





  • 1963, Galina Oleinichenko, Ivan Petrov, Pavel Lisitsian, Zurab Andzaparidze Bolshoi. Boris Khaykin
  • 1982, Galina Kalinina, Artur Eisen. VAI.
  • 2009, Anna Netrebko (Iolanta), Sergey Skorokhodov (Vaudémont), Sergei Aleksashkin (René, King of Provence), Alexei Markov (Robert, Duke of Burgundy). Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg. Director, Mariusz Treliński, Conductor, Valery Gergiev[12]
  • 2012, Ekaterina Scherbachenko, Pavel Cernoch. Teatro Real de Madrid. Teodor Currentzis[13]
  • 2018, Queen City Opera, Cincinnati, Ohio; with English subtitles[14]


  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. ^ Iolanta (1997 production). Bolshoi Opera, Moscow.
  3. ^ Iolanta. Academic Opera Company of Belarus
  4. ^ Gustav Mahler chronology 1891–1900 Archived 2009-12-24 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Griffiths, Paul (1997). "Everyone Knows the Ballet, but Who Knows the Opera?". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2022-06-13.
  6. ^ Iolanta. Metropolitan Opera 2015
  7. ^ Jose Carreras to perform at Sochi 2014 Closing Ceremony Official website of the International Paralympics Committee
  8. ^ Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony Official video recording on YouTube
  9. ^ More than 20 choirs performed at a festival in the Ivangorod fortress in Leningrad Oblast TASS
  10. ^ An operatic-choral festival completed in Leningrad Oblast
  11. ^ Tchaikovsky Research
  12. ^ Iolanta, 28 September 2009, Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg on YouTube
  13. ^ Recordings source: Operadis discography
  14. ^ Video (1 hr, 38 min) on YouTube, Queen City Opera, Cincinnati