Tchaikovsky’s rise to fame was no easy path as far as opera was concerned, and the composer suffered many setbacks. He chose to delete two early works himself, and even "Eugene Onegin" experienced a delayed success. Tchaikovsky's last opera, premiered in 1892, also struggled to make its mark. Outside of Russia, "Iolanta" is very rarely performed on opera stages, despite its undeniable musical qualities.
Tchaikovsky's remarkable aptitude for depicting in music the protagonists and their characters is fully highlighted in this magical one-act opera. Princess Iolanta is blind, but her entourage is committed to hiding her this fact. It is only once Count Vaudémont has declared his love for her that she becomes aware of her blindness. The healing powers of a Moorish physician give the story a happy end in which Tchaikovsky expresses his own hope of overcoming social constraints.
External action is reduced to a minimum in "Iolanta". The opera's dramatic weight rests mainly on internal processes and an emotional world full of contradictions and conflicts. To express this panorama of the soul, Tchaikovsky makes use of a subtly differentiated musical language, which often takes on a chamber music quality, from dark woodwind intonations, and tender melodies played on the strings through to regal brass fanfares. Tchaikovsky couldn’t have left a more beautiful operatic legacy than this hymn to love.