Lyric concertante opera in one act by Peter I. Tschaikovsky Performed in Russian with German surtitles
In a garden paradise, Marta, Brigitta and Laura are passing the time at music and games with the King’s daughter Iolanta. But Iolanta is melancholic and restless. Confused by an undefined, insatiable longing, she feels that her companions are concealing something from her. Her nurse and friends give her flowers to cheer her up and finally sing her to sleep.
Meanwhile Almerich, the new armour-bearer of the powerful King René of Provence, appears, bringing Bertram, the gatekeeper of the castle and garden, news of his master’s imminent arrival. Bertram then reveals the secret of the place to the astonished Almerich: King René’s daughter Iolanta, who is supposed to be living in a convent in Spain, is blind and hidden in this very castle from the outside world by her father. It is forbidden on pain of death to reveal to her that she is blind or the beauty of vision and light.
King René appears, accompanied by a Moorish doctor who is supposed to heal his daughter . Ebn-Chakia, however, refuses to operate on Iolanta while she knows nothing of her blindness and does not want to see. René is outraged and rejects this.
Shortly afterwards, two knights who have lost their bearings in the Vosges appear at the garden gate: Robert, Duke of Burgundy, and his friend Count Vaudémont. They are on their way to King René, to honour Robert’s betrothal to Iolanta which was concluded when they were children. Robert, who has never seen Iolanta, is meanwhile in love with Mathilde, Countess of Lorraine, and laments his fate of having to marry a seemingly emotionally cold novice instead of his beloved. Vaudémont cannot understand his fiery passion for Mathilde and enthuses about an angelic, gentle woman. Despite being forbidden to enter, they both go into the garden and find Iolanta asleep. When Vaudémont sees her, he is immediately spellbound. Robert, who feels uneasy about the force of attraction Iolanta has over his friend, hurries away to »save« Vaudémont and his beauty with a force of armed men.
Vaudémont remains behind with Iolanta who has now awoken. She too feels herself drawn in an inexplicable way to this stranger with his gentle voice. When Vaudémont, however, asks her for a red rose as a memento and when Iolanta helplessly gives him a white rose three times, he realises that she is blind. Unsuspecting, he reveals to her what it means to see, and that without light the knowledge of God and the glory of his Creation is impossible. Iolanta rejects this emphatically. She is convinced that she can praise God even without her sight.
Both are surprised by René, Ebn-Chakia and the royal household. Horrified, the King learns that his daughter now knows everything. The doctor, however, gives hope that Yolanda will now long to be healed but she hesitates and only agrees to the operation when René threatens to kill Vaudémont, if she refuses. Prepared to endure any pain for her beloved, she allows Ebn-Chakia to lead her away.
Meanwhile Robert appears with his soldiers. Vaudémont begs him to ask René to release him from his engagement. He, Vaudémont, will love Iolanta for ever, no matter whether she can see or not. René agrees.
Then Iolanta appears, healed, confused and scared by the light and the many impressions. She recognises her father, friends and Vaudémont only when she hears their voices and feels their touch. The view of the night sky finally calms her completely. She joins all the others in a hymn of praise to Creation.