Lyrical Opera in 1 act
A concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Yolanta” by the Münchner Rundfunkorchester at Munich’s Prinzregententheater in 2009 brought to light a most rewarding one-acter, with “a plot as poignant as it is multifaceted, and a dense, highly theatrical libretto,” wrote Michael Stallknecht in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung.”
Tchaikovsky’s last opera – on a libretto by the composer’s brother Modest, based on the drama by the Danish author Henrik Hertz – derives its life-blood from its poetic moments and the symbol-laden portraits of the leading characters: the blind, young Yolanta is kept prisoner in a paradisiacal garden by her father, who fears for her purity and her virginity, and seeks to protect her from the adversities of the world. To do so, he orders everyone to keep her ignorant of the fact that she is blind. A doctor warns that she will only be able to see when she is ready to do so herself, no matter what fears might result from a complete experience of the world. When the young Vaudémont breaks into her secluded world and the two fall in love, he frees her from her ignorance and explains the significance of color and light. It is through her love for him that she is finally able to see. At the beginning of the work, Tchaikovsky depicts Yolanta’s dark world with an introduction scored exclusively for winds. It is not until her discovery of the unknown world of love and sight that Tchaikovsky uses a warm string sound. This is what many of the composer’s contemporaries found disturbing about the opera.
Tchaikovsky’s “Yolanta” occupies a special place in the composer’s operatic oeuvre: for one, it has a happy ending, an apotheosis of light and love with a religiously stamped closing chorale; for another, it is one of Tchaikovsky’s few stage works without any reference to Russian history. Instead, the work’s pronounced lyricism points to the composer’s closeness to French culture. which exerted a strong influence on Russia in the 19th century.
The opera was given its world premiere at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in 1892. It had been commissioned along with the ballet “The Nutcracker.” Next to the production by the Münchner Rundfunkorchester, “Yolanta” was also successfully rehabilitated in a recent staged production at the Baden-Baden Festival in 2009 with Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala as the lovers. Outside of Germany, the operatic rarity was performed in Toulouse, Tokyo, San Sebastian and Monte Carlo.
In closing, another quote from the “Süddeutsche Zeitung:” “’Yolanta’ is an operatic rediscovery of a work that was truly ‘wrongly forgotten’.”