This Saturday, Suzanne and I saw another production of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. This time it was a double feature: two one-act operas, Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle.
Iolanta starred the wonderful pairing of Anna Netrebko in the title role and Piotr Beczala as Count Vaudemont. Bluebeard’s Castle was well performed by Nadja Michael and Mikhail Petrenko. I would like to focus on Iolanta.
Iolanta, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s last opera, is based on a fairy tale by Henrich Hertz. It tells the story of a blind princess. Her father, King Rene of Provence, has sent her to live with Martha and Bertrand, two “simple” people. Iolanta does not know that she is blind or that she is a princess. This is on her father’s orders. He is especially concerned that her betrothed, Duke Robert, not find out. Iolanta is convinced that eyes are only for crying.
A messenger arrives to announce a visit from the King and a Moorish doctor. The doctor says that in order to be cured of her blindness, Iolanta must be told of her condition and she must want to be cured. He sings of the interdependence between mind and body, spirit and matter. The King refuses to let his daughter be told of her disability.
Duke Robert and his friend Vaudemont arrive at the house. Despite a sign saying that anyone who enters the grounds without permission will die, they enter. Robert has been betrothed to Iolanta since childhood, but he is in love with a woman named Matilda. On the other hand, as soon as they see Iolanta, Vaudemont is struck by her and immediately falls in love.
After Robert departs, Vaudemont talks to Iolanta and asks her for a red rose. Twice she gives him a white one, and he realizes that she is blind. Since Iolanta has no idea of color or light, Vaudemont explains light and sings of its glories.
King Rene returns and finds Vaudemont talking to Iolanta. He is furious that Vaudemont has revealed the secret to Iolanta. Iolanta doesn’t know if she even wants to see, prompting the doctor to say that this confirms his diagnosis that no change is possible without an inner desire. King Rene reminds Vaudemont of the sign and threatens him with death unless the cure works. This sparks a strong desire in Iolanta to be cured.
The doctor leaves with Iolanta and the King explains to Vaudemont that he was pretending in order to motivate his daughter to accept the cure. Robert reappears, telling the King that he will marry Iolanta if the King wishes, but his heart will always belong to Matilda. The King releases him from his pledge.
The doctor and Iolanta return. Iolanta can see! At first she is uncertain of her new gift, but she ultimately embraces it and her marriage to Vaudemont subdues her fears.
What do we learn from the story of Iolanta? Well, the doctor reminds us of the connection between our physical world and our inner, spiritual world. Iolanta’s conclusion reminds us that we do nothing without the inner idea, the mental equivalent. We have to desire it before we see it. (Quite literally, in Iolanta’s case.) It’s not just the word, it’s the inner spark of desire and knowing that causes a change in conditions.
Most importantly, we are reminded of the power of love. Although the King seems to be interested in his own desires and not in the best interests of his daughter, Iolanta’s desire to see grows from her desire to save Vaudemont, her love for him. Love conquers all. It even enables the blind to see the glorious light of God’s creation.
Another excellent performance, and another performance filled with wonderful metaphysical reminders.
For more information on the Met Live in HD, you can visit http://www.metopera.org/hdlive