Russian wandering minstrels, the skomorokhs, perform a show before the Emperor of China: a Chinese-based opera The Mandarin’s Son.

Jin Jingu’s inn is bustling: a lot of work needs to be done before the arrival of a very important guest, a Mandarin (government official) named Gao Qing. Yedi, Jin Jingu’s daughter, is in charge, and young Muri, an orphan male servant, is at her disposal. They enjoy working together, and when Muri declares his feelings for Yedi, she eagerly accepts and reciprocates. Their exchange is overheard by the other servant, an elder Zai Sang, whom Yedi is promised to by her father. They have a contract: Yedi’s hand in payment for ten years of Zai Sang’s service. Outraged, Zai Sang seeks justice from his master and threatens to take him to court if he doesn’t sack Muri. Unwilling to take trouble, the Innkeeper fires the young man out. Muri runs off saying he will take his own life. Yedi plans to elope with Muri.

The Mandarin arrives. He is on a quest of finding his long-lost son. He shares his story with the Innkeeper: once, he managed to curry favour with the Emperor, and was rewarded with the Emperor’s ex-concubine for a wife. He was already married and had a child, and the new spouse made him banish his first wife and son. Now that the shrew was dead, the Mandarin became able to seek the woman he loved and their progeny. Jin Jingu recognizes the story of a woman whom he once took in as a servant; she died, but her son Muri stayed in his service. The Mandarin orders Jin Jingu to fetch the young man immediately.

Muri comes to say goodbye to Yedi and finds the Mandarin alone. They start a conversation, and the Mandarin identifies Muri as his son. Yedi comes and learns about this discovery. She and Muri persuade the Mandarin to agree to their marriage.

Meanwhile, Jin Jingu, under a death threat, must produce a son for the Mandarin. Believing Muri had already committed suicide, the Innkeeper talks Zai Sang into pretending to be Muri and thus obtaining all the priviledges of a mandarin’s son. The Mandarin pretends to accept the impostor and expects the newly-found son to provide for his demoted, penniless father. Frustrated Zai Sang throws off his disguise — and finds himself under a threat of a grave penalty for this fraud. The only way out he is left is to renounce the contract and Yedi’s hand, which he does and is rewarded with a decent sum of money. The Mandarin and the Innkeeper bless their children’s union.


Act One

A seaside. The Fisherman is immersed into a beautiful song sung by Le Rossignol. The Cook brings the Chamberlain, the Bonze, and the courtiers to the seashore to introduce them to Le Rossignol’s singing. At first, they mistake a cow for the songbird and admire the volume of its mooing, then make the same mistake with a choir of frogs. At last, they see and hear Le Rossignol and invite it to sing before the Emperor. The Cook carries the bird to the palace.

Act Two

A feast at the Emperor’s palace adorned with lanterns and bells. The ex-Cook, promoted to a Chef, describes Le Rossignol to the courtiers. Le Rossignol sings before the court and moves the Emperor’s heart, but rejects any reward: tears in the royal listener’s eyes are enough. The ladies of the court try to imitate Le Rossignol’s singing. Then Japanese envoys arrive and present the Emperor with a mechanical rossignol. The automaton produces music; meanwhile, the living bird flies away. The Emperor declares that the escapee is exiled and promotes the mechanical rossignol the principal singer of the court.

Act Three

The Emperor is sick; half-awake, he lies on his bed, trampled by Death who holds his crown, his sword and his banner. The ghosts of his deeds haunt the Emperor’s memory. He hopes that music would drive the ghosts away, but the beat of the drums fails to do it. Le Rossignol returns, and its singing fascinated Death so much that she disposes of the royal insignia and finally leaves the bedroom. The saviour once again rejects any reward but the Emperor’s tears and promises to return every night to sing for him.

The recovered Emperor welcomes the new dawn.