With star solo singers of the Mariinsky Theatre
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.
Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies share the obsession of fate as a common denominator and are in fact often regarded as a triptych. Although they are well spaced out over time, these works can be considered as different stagings of the musician’s tormented inner world. Eleven years after having completed of his 4th Symphony, Tchaikovsky began to compose his Symphony in E minor, not without some difficulty. “I must work harder in the future; I want so much to show not only to others, but to myself, that I still haven't expired... I don't know whether I wrote to you that I had decided to write a symphony. At first it was fairly difficult; now inspiration seems to have deserted me completely” he confided to his admirer Nadezhda von Meck in the course of the composition. Tchaikovsky did not attach a programme as such to the piece, but provided a few guidelines in the margin of the first movement: “Total submission before fate, or, what is the same thing, the inscrutable designs of Providence (…) Murmurs, doubts, laments, reproaches against... XXX (…) Shall I cast myself into the embrace of faith???” Who or what is XXX? Maybe a person, but it is more likely that the composer was referring here to the crucial problem of his homosexuality. The reference to a “complete resignation” seems however to indicate that he had accepted this fact. The first movement opens with the cyclical theme that will further appears throughout the work: a sad and gloomy motive related both to a march and a chorale. The second movement might correspond to the “consolation” and the “ray of light” that Tchaikovsky went on to mention in his annotations, whereas the third movement moves closer to the world of dance, carried by an elegant waltz. In the last movement, the cyclical theme finally shifts into the major mode. Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony was given its first hearing in St. Petersburg on 5 November 1888, with the composer conducting. It was given a warm welcome by the audience, even if the critics seemed more reserved. This work nevertheless bears the imprint of a profound individuality and concludes on the man’s spiritual impotence.
The Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg is one of the world's leading opera and ballet houses. Built in 1860, the theatre was known as the Kirov Theatre between 1935 and 1992. The new Mariinsky II building was added in 2013. The theatre has also been operating its own concert hall since 2006. The original theatre, which was extensively renovated in 2009, has housed numerous major world premieres, including Modest Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov (1874) and several Tchaikovsky ballets and operas, including Iolanta (1892).
The Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra was founded in 1783 under the reign of Empress Catherine II and now ranks amongst the world's leading orchestras. Regular tours take the musicians to the most renowned opera and concert houses in Europe, the USA, Japan and Canada. The orchestra also undertakes annual educational and charitable journeys to cities throughout Russia and CIS member countries, from Irkutsk and Almaty to Kaliningrad and Vilnius. The Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra is closely associated with the history of Russian music and has created major works by Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Prokofiev. It has performed under the baton of legendary conductors such as Eduard Nápravník, Arthur Nikisch, Albert Coates, Yevgeny Mravinsky, Konstantin Simeonov and Yuri Temirkanov, as well as Hector Berlioz, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Gustav Mahler.
Valery Gergiev is chief conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra since 1988 and has significantly expanded the ensemble's repertoire. Besides classical masterpieces of the 19th and 20th centuries – including the complete Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Mahler and Beethoven symphonies – the orchestra's concert programmes now include music by modern composers such as Boris Tishchenko, Sofia Gubaidulina, Giya Kancheli, Rodion Shchedrin and Alexander Raskatov. On Gergiev's initiative, the orchestra launched its own record label in 2009 and has since won numerous prizes with its recordings.
The Mariinsky Theatre Choir is closely related to the development of musical culture in Russia. In the middle of the 19th century, the choir made its first appearances at the Mariinsky Theatre under the baton of the legendary conductor Eduard Nápravník, singing the numerous choir parts in famous operas by Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky. The choir thus became an integral part of the Mariinsky Opera Company. It owes its success to its caring perpetuation of the old Russian choral tradition. The Mariinsky Theatre Choir is not only regularly involved in opera productions but also gives independent concerts devoted to secular and sacred music. With its beautiful and powerful sound, it is one of the world's leading choirs and is regularly invited to perform at international festivals in Russia, Finland, Switzerland, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy and Israel. Andrei Petrenko has been Music Director of the Mariinsky Theatre Choir since 2000.