The Nightingale / Le Rossignol


ibretto by Stepan Mitusov based on the fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen

Stage Director – Dmitry Bertman
Musical Director
 Vladimir Ponkin
Set and Costume Designers
 Igor Nezhny and Tatiana Tulubyeva
Light Designer
 Damir Ismagilov
Stage Choreographer
– Edwald Smirnov
Playing time 
 50 minutes (no intermission)
Language of performance 


The first opera by Igor Stravinsky was based on the same name fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. The composer worked on the libretto together with his friend Stepan Mitusov, and they preserved almost original plot of the famous storyteller. The first act of “The Nightingale” (usually known by its French title Le Rossignol) was completed in 1909. Later on there was a ballet period in the Stravinsky’ life. It all started with the orchestration of some Chopin’s plays for “Les Sylphides” by Mikhail Fokin, and then three amazing Dyagilev’s ballet appeared one by one like a magic: “The Firebird”, “Petrushka” and “Le Sacre du printemps”. Before he returned to the miniature Chinese opera and composed the scene of the Japanese ambassadors, Stravinsky had created a tiny vocal cycle “Three Japanese Lyrics” (1913). There had been no Chinese motifs in the Russian opera before, except for the comedy “The Mandarin’s Son” by César Cui (1859). The young Stravinsky obviously willing to compete with the great opera storyteller Nikolai Andreevich Rimski-Korsakov chose the plot, which lay beyond the interest of his teacher. But nevertheless one can’t avoid comparing “The Nightingale” with “The Little Golden Cockerel”. Even the satire on the Russian realia, which is abundant in the last opera by Rimski-Korsakov, slipped through into the composition of the esthete Stravinsky. Separate details of “The Nightingale” follow the tradition, hiding behind the Chinese curtain, to ask eternal Russian questions — like Aleksey Tolstoy said in his poem “A Chinese is sitting under a baldachin…” (1869):

Why do the things still
Go wrong in China?

The premiere of “The Nightingale” took place on 26 May 1914 on the stage of the Paris opera. The play of the Sergey Dyagilev’s troupe was decorated by Alexandre Benois. Pierre Monteux was the conductor. In 1917 Stravinsky turned the musical opera into the symphonic poem “The Song of Nightingale”, which was soon transformed by Leonid Myasin into a new ballet, where Henri Matisse was the designer and George Balanchine was the choreographer. But the opera “Nightingale” turned out to live longer than the ballets of the famous choreographers and still continues to appear on the world stages, though not often. 




Scene 1
…The nightingale sang such a lovely song, that even a poor tired Fisherman listened to her singing with delight, forgetting about his seine. “Oh, God! So nice!” — The Fisherman suddenly uttered…  
And then almost half of all the Chinese Emperor’s courtiers went to the forest, where the Nightingale would sing. They were walking for a while and suddenly a cow lowed. 
— Oh! — Said young courtiers, — Here the nightingale is! What a strong voice! — It is just a cow lowing! — A Little Kitchen-maid said, — we are a long way from the place yet. 
Then some frogs began to croak in the marsh.
— Wonderful! — said a young courtier.
— No, those are frogs! — The Little Kitchen-maid said again,
— There she is!
And she pointed at a small grey bird, sitting on the bough…

Scene 2
The palace was decorated for the occasion. The whole court was present, and the Little Kitchen-maid had received permission to stand by the door since she had been granted the title of a real court cook. And the Nightingale began to sing so sweetly that the tears came into the Emperor’s eyes … The Emperor was so delighted that he declared the Nightingale should have his gold slipper to wear round her neck. But she declined the honor with thanks: she had been sufficiently rewarded already. 
— I have seen tears in an Emperor’s eyes, — she said, — that is my richest reward.
— That singing is a lovely gift — said the ladies of the court to each other; and then they took water in their mouths to make them utter the gurgling sounds of the Nightingale when they spoke to anyone.

The Japanese ambassadors have delivered the Emperor an artificial nightingale, looking like a real one, but covered all over with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. Round its neck hung a piece of ribbon, on which was written “The Emperor of China’s Nightingale is poor compared with that of the Emperor of Japan’s.” Three and thirty  times did it sing the same tunes without being tired. No one had noticed the real Nightingale when she flew out at the open window, back to her own green woods.… 

Scene 3
Five years passed, and then a real grief came upon the land. The Chinese were really fond of their Emperor, and he now lay so ill that he was not expected to live. The poor Emperor could scarcely breathe… All around the bed and peeping through the long velvet curtains, were a number of strange heads, some very ugly, and others lovely and gentle-looking. These were the Emperor’s good and bad deeds, which stared him in the face now Death sat at his heart.
— Do you remember this? — They asked one after another.
— Do you remember this? — bringing to his remembrance circumstances that made the perspiration stand on his brow.

Suddenly there came through the open window the sound of sweet music. Outside, on the bough of a tree, sat the living Nightingale. And as she sung, the shadows grew paler and paler,the blood in the Emperor’s veins flowed more rapidly, and gave life to his weak limbs; and even Death himself listened, and said, “Go on, little Nightingale, go on.”




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