Libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky based on verse drama Kong Renés Datter (King René's Daughter) by Henrik HertzSYNOPSIS
Iolanta is blind from birth but does not know it. Her father, King René, has hidden her from the outside world in the castle. He has ordered no one to reveal the secret to the princess until he finds a way to cure her. The courtiers treat her as if nothing has happened, and yet Iolanta feels that something is amiss.
Ibn-Hakia, a physician, promises René that his daughter will see, but only after she learns about her blindness and wants to be cured. The King is in doubt.
Meanwhile, Duke Robert and his friend Vaudémont arrive at the castle. By the will of his parents, Robert has been betrothed to Iolanta since childhood, but now he is in love with Matilde, so he wants to break off the engagement. The two men enter the garden and find Iolanta asleep. Vaudémont is entranced by her beauty. The rustle wakes her up, and she greets the visitors. Being wary of Iolanta, Robert runs away, while Vaudémont stays fascinated by the mysterious place and its inhabitant.
Vaudémont asks Iolanta to give him a red rose as a souvenir of their meeting. She picks a white one. Then she does it twice again. Vaudémont realises that Iolanta cannot see. He tells her this, but the girl does not understand what it means; she does not think she is missing anything.
King René, having learned that Vaudémont has revealed the secret to Iolanta, decides to use a trick. He threatens to execute the Count. To save her beloved, Iolanta agrees to the treatment. Through the efforts of Ibn-Hakia she can see now. However, reality scares her. Iolanta enters a new world, but will it bring her happiness?