Le Chant du Rossignol [The Song of the Nightingale]

Choreographic poem in one act
◾Producer: Les Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev
Première: 2 February 1920
Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris
◾Costume design: Henri Matisse
◾Costumier: Marie Muelle
◾Scenery design: Henri Matisse
◾Music: Igor Stravinsky
◾Choreography: Léonide Massine
◾Libretto: After the story by Hans Christian Andersen
◾Main characters: The Nightingale, the Emperor of China,
the Mechanical Nightingale, the Japanese Maestro, Death, Mandarins,
chamberlains, mourners

Teatro dell'Opera, Rome  14 February 2012
Revived by Lorca Massine
Sets: Fortunato Depero

The setting is the court of the Chinese Emperor, who owns a nightingale that sings
for the court’s entertainment. However, the Japanese Emperor arrives for a visit,
bearing a gift of a mechanical nightingale. The Chinese Emperor and his court are
overjoyed with the new toy and soon the real nightingale leaves, neglected.
Later, the Chinese Emperor becomes ill and on his death bed requests music be
played. Just as he is about to die, the real nightingale returns to the palace and
begins to sing, promising to continue if Death relents. The bargain is kept, the
Emperor recovers and the Nightingale is restored to its former position in his court.

Based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale of the same name, this production
was adapted from Stravinsky’s opera, Le Rossignol, produced by Diaghilev in 1914.
The original opulent orientalist set and costumes by Benois were destroyed during
the First World War, a loss that stimulated Diaghilev to commission a new ballet
version which, following his successful engagements with Picasso and Derain, he
hoped would be designed by another major artist. In 1919, he visited Henri Matisse
to persuade him to design his new production,and was delighted to discover
Matisse's collection of exotic birds and his admiration of Massine’s choreography.
Matisse had no theatre experience but took the commission with enthusiasm,
determined to produce a design that was different from the high-keyed exoticism
associated with the Ballets Russes. Using light colours against a porcelain-white
backdrop, his refined costumes were based on traditional Chinese Ming court dress
in colour orchestrations derived from Chinese ceramics and lacquer. The courtiers’
costumes were elaborately tailored in silk, with loose decorations painted and
directed by Matisse. Their massing on stage created the impression of a continuous
pattern, as if on a scroll painting. The final unfurling of the recovered Emperor’s long
vermilion cloak was a calligraphic gesture, contrasting with the massed graphic of
the black and white clad mourners at his feet. Their animal-like cloaks, among the
most breathtaking of Matisse’s designs, were made from a white felt-like curtain
lining material with appliquéd triangles and chevrons of navy blue velvet, inspired by
the markings on Chinese deer.