This post is dedicated to my father, whose 70th birthday would have been today.
Opera in three acts. Running Time: 46 minutes.
(NOT a Japanese toy, Image curtesy of Rosemar, Overblog)
SETTING: Ancient China. A nightingale is invited to sing for the Emperor but is scared away by a creepy Japanese manufactured toy (what else is new?). The bird gets banished but returns to save the Emperor from Death and promises to sing for him every night because its loves his tears.
RECORDING: (In Russian)
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: A sea shore before sunrise. (17 minutes)
0: The prelude *, seemingly long and a bit Debussy-ish. Calm.
3: The song of the Fisherman *** as he waits to hear the song of the Nightingale, haunting, and the best tune in the entire piece. Thankfully repeated at the end of each act, so it does return, don’t worry.
7, 13, 16: The song of the Nightingale **. The Cook arrives with the court Chamberlain who promises her the position of Imperial cook should she capture the Nightingale, who appears and addresses her in a cappella *. The Chamberlain invites her to sing for the Emperor. She accepts but declares that her sweetest song belongs to the forest. The Fisherman reflects as the scene ends **.
ACT 2: The Imperial Palace, decked out with lanterns for the arrival of the Nightingale. (15 minutes)
0: The act opens with a bang and some crazy chromatic chorusing that is running about all over the place *. The Cook gives her description of the Nightingale, grey and almost invisible, but her song is beautiful.
2: A marche chinoise *, very pseudo-Chinese and somewhat atonal, it turns furious just before dying away and then the Chamberlain gives his ornery address.
6: The Song of the Nightingale *, the Russian Bell Song, weird, bizarre, a little uncomfortable, although the Emperor is apparently enthralled by it, prompting a encore.
10: The arrival of the Japanese emissaries *, accompanied only by a cor anglais.
11, 13, 14: The song of the mechanical Bird **, a solo for oboe, oddly more interesting than the Nightingale’s song, also more tonal than anything else in the act. It prompts the Nightingale to fly away, the emperor then banishes her from the palace and names the mechanical Bird “First Singer” and the marche chinoise * returns. The Fisherman pops in at the end for his hauntingly lovely observation **.
ACT 3: The Emperor’s Chambers. (14 minutes)
2, 4: The Emperor is dying to an ornery prelude followed by a rather good chorus of female death spirits ** as the Emperor begs for good music. The return of the Nightingale * leads to a repeat of her song.
7, 8: The arrival of Death * (a contralto no less!) who begs the Nightingale to sing. It promises to do so in exchange for the life of the Emperor. Eventually it continues its song to a guitar (sounds like a balalaika) and other combinations of instruments *.
10: Eventually Death leaves and the Emperor revives to full health *. He offers the title of First Singer to the Nightingale, but instead she promises to sing for him each night because she loves his tears.
11, 13: A solemn cortege * followed in the final minute by the final repeat of the Fisherman’s song ** bringing the opera to a close.
The best role is certainly the Fisherman, although the female chorus gets a good bit in at the start of act three. The Nightingale herself is a coloratura soprano olympic sprint, although not so tuneful. The fact that she is scared away by a Japanese manufactured toy with the voice of an oboe speaks volumes in hilarity. The rest can be oddly dull given the brevity of the work, although any of the orchestral pieces could be nice to have on while doing something else. The first act was written in 1908, the rest of the score in 1914, so Stravinsky’s stylistic changes are very noticeable. I personally think the first and last acts are better than the second overall, but all three have two or three highlights along with a few lowlights. A-.
The Nightingale (opera) at Wikipedia.