Pyotr Tchaikovsky found the inspiration for his last opera in a tale of medieval France. Iolanta, the daughter of King René, has been blind since birth, but is unaware of her misfortune. Cradled in loving care, she lives a quiet, happy life, in ignorance of her blindness, until a young knight happens to enter her home.
In a very literal sense, the opera celebrates love and its curative powers. Indeed, it is only after she falls in love, experiences spiritual pain, and overcomes her fear, that Iolanta is able to see. In the finale, the choir extols the universe, the light of reason, morality, and purity. The production is bathed in light, which heightens its delicate musical lyricism and reinforces the story’s main theme of the victory of light over darkness.
Libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky based on Heinrich Hertz’s dramatic poem Koenig Renes Tochter
The libretto was written by the composer's brother Modest Tchaikovsky, and is based on the Danish play Kong Renes Datter (King Rene’s Daughter) by Henrik Hertz, a romanticised account of the life of Yolande de Bar. The play was translated by Fyodor Miller and adapted by Vladimir Zotov. The opera received its premiere on 18 December 1892 in St. Petersburg.