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Music Text

Libretto by the composer and Stepan Mitusov (R,E,F,G)


colS,S,A,T,lyrT,Bar,2B; chorus

Abbreviations (PDF)

World Premiere
Théâtre National de l'Opéra, Paris
Boris Romanov, choreographer
Conductor: Pierre Monteux
Company: Paris Opera


NIGHTINGALE Coloratura Soprano
COOK Soprano
DEATH Contralto
Courtiers and Ghosts chorus
Time and Place

Ancient China


A humble fisherman at his nets is mesmerised by the beauty of a nightingale’s song. Rich courtiers arrive, led there by the cook who has told them of the bird’s marvellous voice. The court chamberlain tells the bird of the Chinese emperor’s desire to hear him. The nightingale agrees to return with them to the court. There, a great feast is being prepared with bustle and anxiety. The emperor appears in splendour and commands the nightingale to sing. Deeply moved by the bird’s voice, he offers rich presents, but the nightingale declares that the emperor’s tears are reward enough. A delegation from the Japanese emperor arrives with a mechanical nightingale as a gift. Seeing this, the real nightingale flies away. Angered, the Chinese emperor transfers his affections to the Japanese mechanical toy. The emperor falls sick and longs to hear the real nightingale again. The bird arrives and strikes a deal with Death. Death will spare the emperor if the nightingale sings but one more song. So he sings, dawn comes and the emperor recovers. The bird promises to return again each night.

Repertoire Note

Like The Fairy's Kiss, also inspired by Hans Christian Andersen, The Nightingale recaptures the fairy-tale world of the composer's childhood. Act I, with its plaintive Fisherman, recalls the romantically iridescent style of Rimsky-Korsakov. Acts II and III, composed some four years later, postdate The Rite of Spring; here, Stravinsky's evocation of a bizarre Chinese court, its bells and lanterns, is a sardonic phantasmagoria. The silvery arabesques and trills of the Nightingale banish Death from the Emperor's bedside. In 1917, the opera was turned into a ballet. Stravinsky: "I had been thinking of making a symphonic poem for orchestra by combining the music of Acts II and III of The Nightingale, which were homogeneous, and I told Diaghilev I would place that at his disposal if he cared to make a ballet of it. He warmly welcomed the suggestion."

Reproduction Rights
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with credit to Boosey & Hawkes/Joseph Horowitz.





Recommended Recording

Natalie Dessay, Vsevolod Grivnov, Marie McLaughlin, Laurent Naouri, Albert Schagidullin, Maxim Mikhailov, Violeta Urmana, Olivier Berg, Wassyl Slipak, Grzegorz Staskiewicz, Paris National Opera Chorus, Paris National Opera Orchestra, James Conlon
EMI CDC5568742
Virgin DVD 5442429

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