The Nightingale (opera)

The Nightingale (opera)

"The Nightingale" (Solovyei) is a Russian "conte lyrique" in three acts by Igor Stravinsky. The libretto, based on the tale of The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen, was written by the composer and Stepan Mitussov.

Stravinsky had begun work on the opera in 1908, but put it aside for several years after he had received the commission from Sergei Diaghilev for the ballet "The Firebird". He completed it in 1914, after he had completed his other two major ballets for Diaghilev, "Petrushka" and "The Rite of Spring". Stravinsky subsequently turned aside from large productions to concentrate on chamber music and the piano.

The opera's first performance was on 26 May 1914 in the Théâtre National de l'Opéra in Paris, in a production by Sergei Diaghilev, with the singers in the pit and their roles mimed and danced on stage. Stravinsky later prepared a symphonic poem, "Le chant du rossignol" ("The Song of the Nightingale"), using music from the opera, in 1917, as a separate concert work.


The setting is ancient China. The fisherman acts as commentator on the story's events. [M.D. Calvocoressi, "M. Igor Stravinsky's Opera: "The Nightingale", "The Musical Times", 55 (856), 372-374.]

"Act I"
At the seashore just before sunrise, a fisherman hears the song of the nightingale, which causes him to forget his troubles. The cook has brought officials from the court of the Emperor to hear the nightingale, telling of the beauty of its singing. However, the nightingale is nowhere to be heard. The court chamberlain promises the cook a position as private cook to the Emperor, if she can find the nightingale. The nightingale does finally appear, and receives an invitation from the cook and the chamberlain to sing for the Emperor. The nightingale accepts the invitation, but says that its sweetest song is in the forest.

"Act II"
Courtiers festoon the palace with lanterns in advance of the singing of the nightingale. The cook tells the courtiers about the nightingale, that it is small, gray and virtually invisible, but its song causes its listeners to cry. A procession denotes the Emperor's arrival, and the Emperor commands the nightingale to sing. The singing touches the Emperor deeply, and he offers the bird a reward of a golden slipper to wear about its neck. Later, three Japanese emissaries offer the Emperor a mechanical nightingale, which begins to sing. The genuine bird flies away, and the angry Emperor orders it banished from his realm. He names the mechanical bird "first singer".

"Act III"
The Emperor is ill and near death. The figure of Death is in the Emperor's chamber. The ghosts of the Emperor's past deeds visit him. The Emperor calls for his court musicians, but the genuine nightingale has reappeared, in defiance of the imperial edict, and begun to sing. Death hears the nightingale's song and is greatly moved, and asks it to continue. The nightingale agrees, on condition that Death returns to the Emperor his crown, sword and standard. Death assents and gradually removes himself from the scene as the nightingale continues to sing. The Emperor slowly regains his strength, and on seeing the nightingale, offers it the "first singer" post at court. The nightingale says that it is satisfied with the Emperor's tears as reward, and promises to sing for him each night from dusk until dawn.


* Columbia: Loren Driscoll, Reri Grist, Marina Picassi, Kenneth Smith, Herbert Beattie, Donald Gramm, Stanley Kolk, William Murphy, Carl Kaiser, Elaine Bonazzi; Orchestra and Chorus of the Opera Society of Washington, D.C.; Igor Stravinsky, conductor [ Thomas Rimer, "Le Rossignol". Igor Stravinsky". "The Opera Quarterly", 3, 100-103 (1985).]
* Erato: Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Ian Caley, Felicity Palmer, John Tomlinson; BBC Singers; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Pierre Boulez, conductor
* Musicmasters (Naxos reissue): Andrew Greenan, Simon Preece, Paul Whelan, Olga Trifonova, Pippa Longworth, Stephen Richardson, Robert Tear, Sally Burgess; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Robert Craft, conductor
* EMI Classics: Laurent Naouri, Violeta Urmana, Marie McLaughlin, Natalie Dessay, Vsevolod Grivnov, Maxim Mikhailov, Albert Shagidullin; Orchestre de l'Opera de Paris; James Conlon, conductor

The opera has been adapted for television in an animated interpretation by filmmaker [ Christian Chaudet] , utilizing the Conlon recording as the soundtrack.


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