St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre

Aleko. Iolanta

one act opera


Age category 12+


Music by Sergei Rachmaninoff
Libretto by Vladimir  Nemirovich-Danchenko after the poem by Alexander Pushkin
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Director: Mariusz Trelinski
Production Designer: Boris Kudlička
Costume Designer: Magdalena Musial
Lighting Designer: Marc Heinz
Cinematographer: Wojciech Puś
Animators: Michał Jankowski and Tomasz Popakul
Choreographer: Tomasz Wygoda
Literary Consultant: Piotr Gruszczynski
Musical Preparation: Marina Mishuk
Principal Chorus Master: Andrei Petrenko



Gypsies have set up camp on a river bank. It is evening. Aleko is amongst the gypsies; it is now two years since he has turned his back on society and roamed with the gypsies. Aleko and the young Zemfira once loved each other, but her passion quickly cooled off. Zemfira’s father remembers his own youth and unhappy love. Mariula remained faithful to him for just one year. Abandoning her young daughter she left him for someone else. Aleko cannot understand why the gypsy did not avenge himself this treachery; he himself, with no hesitation, would send his enemy, even though he were asleep, to the depths. But Zemfira and her secret lover, the Young Gypsy, think otherwise: love is free! The gypsies wish to dispel the gloomy mood that descends following the Old Man’s tale with some lively dancing. While dancing, Zemfira and the Young Gypsy take cover. Torturous jealousy grips Aleko’s soul. He spends the night in painful contemplation. The day dawns. Zemfira bids farewell to the Young Gypsy behind a burial mound. She makes haste, but Aleko is already there. In vain he attempts to revive Zemfira’s love. Possessed with jealousy, Aleko kills the lovers. Hearing the commotion, the gypsies appear. All of them as well as Zemfira’s father demand that the murderer leave them. Morning arrives. The gypsies depart. Aleko despairs – he is alone once more.

Performed in Russian (the performance will have synchronised English supertitles)

Co-production of the Festspielhaus Baden Baden

Premiere of this production: 17 April 2009, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg

Iolanta – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s last opera – was written two years before the composer’s death. In 1884 Tchaikovsky read the one-act play King René’s Daughter by the Danish dramatist Henrik Hertz. The poetic story of Iolanta who has been blind from birth and is cured of her ailment through love inspired Tchaikovsky, who was looking for a subject for a short, lyrical opera.
The eternal gloom in which Iolanta lives peacefully becomes a symbol of spiritual blindness and the source of deep pain for those close to her. Love ignites her heart’s desire to see the world and inspires her courage to undergo the pain that will enable her to see.
At the request of the composer, his brother Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote an operatic libretto after the plot of King René’s Daughter. The opera was written between July and December 1891, and the premiere took place at the Mariinsky Theatre on 6 December 1892.
It is believed that the composer’s philosophical intentions are reflected in the plot of the opera, as he had a keen interest in the philosophy of Spinoza. Whether that is the case or not Iolanta stands apart from Tchaikovsky’s other works because of its unusual “otherworldly” plot and the touching, light and serene music.

Aleko, composed in 1892, was Rachmaninoff´s graduation work for the Moscow Conservatoire. The complex conditions for writing the opera (the pre-prepared libretto was by Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko after Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin´s poem The Gypsy; nothing could be altered and there was a time limit – just one month could be spent on the score) did not prevent the young composer from becoming truly engaged in the subject. As Rachmaninoff later recalled, his opera drew Tchaikovsky´s attention and Tchaikovsky´s influence in Russia´s music circles was so great that at his advice the young composer´s opera was accepted for production by the Bolshoi Theatre. The premiere took place on 27 April 1893. After the stunning success of the opera, Tchaikovsky asked Rachmaninoff if he would agree to a combined production of Iolanta and Aleko at the Bolshoi Theatre in autumn the same year. Tchaikovsky´s unexpected death prevented this plan from coming to fruition…
Vladimir Goryachikh

Conductor: Pavel Smelkov
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