|Ballets by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky|
Swan Lake (Russian: Лебединое озеро Lebedinoye ozero), Op. 20, is a ballet composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875–76. Despite its initial failure, it is now one of the most popular of all ballets.
The scenario, initially in two acts, was fashioned from Russian folk tales and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer's curse. The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger (Václav Reisinger). The ballet was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet on 4 March [O.S. 20 February] 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Although it is presented in many different versions, most ballet companies base their stagings both choreographically and musically on the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, first staged for the Imperial Ballet on 15 January 1895, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. For this revival, Tchaikovsky's score was revised by the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre's chief conductor and composer Riccardo Drigo.
Origins of the Swan Lake story
Many critics have disputed the original source of the Swan Lake story. The libretto is based on a story by the German author Johann Karl August Musäus, "Der geraubte Schleier" (The Stolen Veil), though this story provides only the general outline of the plot of Swan Lake. The Russian folktale "The White Duck" also bears some resemblance to the story of the ballet, and may have been another possible source. The contemporaries of Tchaikovsky recalled the composer taking great interest in the life story of Bavarian King Ludwig II, whose tragic life had supposedly been marked by the sign of Swan and who—either consciously or not—was chosen as the prototype of the dreamer Prince Siegfried.
The Russian ballet patriarch Fyodor Lopukhov has called Swan Lake a "national ballet" because of its swans, which he argues originate from Russian lyrically romantic sources, while many of the movements of the corps de ballet originated from Slavonic ring-dances. According to Lopukhov, "both the plot of Swan Lake, the image of the Swan and the very idea of a faithful love are essentially Russian."
Origins of the Swan Lake composition
The origins of the ballet Swan Lake are rather obscured, and since there are very few records concerning the first production of the work to have survived, there can only be speculation about who the author of the original libretto was. The most authoritative theory appears to be that it was written by Vladimir Petrovich Begichev, director of the Moscow Imperial Theatres during the time that the ballet was originally produced, and possibly Vasily Geltser, Danseur of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre. However, Geltser was in all probability merely the first person to copy the scenario for publication, as a surviving copy bears his name. Since the first published libretto of the ballet and the actual music composed by Tchaikovsky do not correspond in many places, we may infer that the first actual published libretto was possibly crafted by a newspaper writer who had viewed the initial rehearsals, as new productions of operas and ballets were always reported in the newspapers of Imperial Russia, along with their respective scenarios.
According to two of Tchaikovsky's relatives—his nephew Yuri Lvovich Davydov and his niece Anna Meck-Davydova—the composer had earlier created a little ballet called The Lake of the Swans at their home in 1871. This ballet included the famous Leitmotif known as the Swan's Theme or Song of the Swans. Begichev commissioned the score of Swan Lake from Tchaikovsky in May 1875 for a rather modest fee of 800 rubles, and soon Begichev began to choose artists that would participate in the creation of the ballet. The choreographer assigned to the production was the Czech Julius Reisinger (1827–1892), who had been engaged as balletmaster to the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (today known as the Bolshoi Ballet) since 1873. It is not known what sort of collaborative processes were involved between Tchaikovsky and Reisinger. It seems that Tchaikovsky worked with only the most basic outline from Reisinger of the requirements for each dance. Tchaikovsky likely had some form of instruction in composing Swan Lake, as he had to know what sort of dances would be required. But unlike the instructions that Tchaikovsky received for the scores of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, no such written instruction is known to have survived. When Reisinger began choreographing after the score was completed, he demanded some changes from Tchaikovsky. Whether by demanding the addition or removal of a dance, Reisinger made it clear that he was to be a very large part in the creation of this piece. Although the two artists were required to collaborate, each seemed to prefer working as independently of the other as possible.
From around the time of the turn of the 19th century until the beginning of the 1890s, scores for ballets were almost always written by composers known as "specialists," who were highly skilled at scoring the light, decorative, melodious, and rhythmically clear music that was at that time in vogue for ballet. Tchaikovsky studied the music of "specialists" such as the Italian Cesare Pugni and the Austrian Ludwig Minkus, before setting to work on Swan Lake. Tchaikovsky had a rather negative opinion of the "specialist" ballet music until he studied it in detail, being impressed by the nearly limitless variety of infectious melodies their scores contained. Tchaikovsky most admired the ballet music of such composers as Léo Delibes, Adolphe Adam, and later, Riccardo Drigo. He would later write to his protégé, the composer Sergei Taneyev, "I listened to the Delibes ballet 'Sylvia'...what charm, what elegance, what wealth of melody, rhythm, and harmony. I was ashamed, for if I had known of this music then, I would not have written 'Swan Lake.'" Tchaikovsky most admired Adam's 1844 score for Giselle, which used the Leitmotif technique: associating certain themes with certain characters or moods, a technique he would use in Swan Lake, and later, The Sleeping Beauty.
Tchaikovsky drew on previous compositions for his Swan Lake score. He made use of material from The Voyevoda, an opera that he had abandoned in 1868. The Grand adage (a.k.a. the Love Duet) from the second scene of Swan Lake was fashioned from an aria from that opera, as was the Valse des fiancées from the third scene. Another number which included a theme from The Voyevoda was the Entr'acte of the fourth scene. By April 1876 the score was complete, and rehearsals began. Soon Reisinger began setting certain numbers aside that he dubbed "undanceable." Reisinger even began choreographing dances to other composers' music, but Tchaikovsky protested and his pieces were reinstated.
Tchaikovsky's excitement with Swan Lake is evident from the speed with which he composed: commissioned in the spring of 1875, the piece was created within one full year. His letters to Sergei Taneyev from August 1875 indicate, however, that it was not only his excitement that compelled him to create it so quickly but his wish to finish it as soon as possible, so as to allow him to start on an opera. Respectively, he created scores of the first three numbers of the ballet, then the orchestration in the fall and winter, and was still struggling with the instrumentation in the spring. By April 1876, the work was complete. Tchaikovsky's mention of a draft suggests the presence of some sort of abstract but no such draft has ever been seen. Tchaikovsky wrote various letters to friends expressing his longstanding desire to work with this type of music, and his excitement concerning his current stimulating, albeit laborious task.
Moscow première (world première)
- Date: 4 March (OS 20 February) 1877
- Place: Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
- Balletmaster: Julius Reisinger
- Conductor: Stepan Ryabov
- Scene Designers: Karl Valts (Acts 2 & 4), Ivan Shangin (Act 1), Karl Groppius (Act 3)
St. Petersburg première
- Date: 27 January 1895
- Place: Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
- Balletmaster: Marius Petipa (Acts 1 & 3), Lev Ivanov (Acts 2 & 4)
- Conductor: Riccardo Drigo
- Scene Designers: Ivan Andreyev, Mikhail Bocharov, Henrich Levogt
- Costume Designer: Yevgeni Ponomaryov
Other notable productions
- 1880 and 1882, Moscow, Bolshoi Theatre, staged by Joseph Hansen after Reisinger, conductor and designers as in première
- 1901, Moscow, Bolshoi Theatre, staged by Aleksandr Gorsky, conducted by Andrey Arends, scenes by Aleksandr Golovin (Act 1), Konstantin Korovin (Acts 2 & 4), N. Klodt (Act 3)
- 1911, London, Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev production, choreography by Michel Fokine after Petipa-Ivanov, scenes by Golovin and Korovin
|Rôle||Moscow 1877||Moscow 1880||St. Petersburg 1895||Moscow 1901||London 1911|
|Queen||Olga Nikolayeva||Giuseppina Cecchetti|
|Siegfried||Victor Gillert||Alfred Bekefi||Pavel Gerdt||Mikhail Mordkin||Vaslav Nijinsky|
|Benno||Sergey Nikitin||Aleksandr Oblakov|
|Odette||Pelageya Karpakova||Yevdokiya Kalmїkova||Pierina Legnani||Adelaide Giuri||Mathilde Kschessinska|
|Von Rothbart||Sergey Sokolov||Aleksey Bulgakov||K. Kubakin|
|Odile||Pierina Legnani||Mathilde Kschessinska|
Original production of 1877
The première of Swan Lake on Friday, 4 March 1877, was given as a benefit performance for the ballerina Pelageya Karpakova (also known as Polina Karpakova), who performed the role of Odette, with the Bolshoi Theatre's Première danseur Victor Gillert as Prince Siegfried. Karpakova likely also danced the part Odile, although it is not known for certain. Many interpreters of Odette have since doubled as Odile.
The Russian ballerina Anna Sobeshchanskaya – for whom the original (1877) role of Odette was intended – was pulled from the première performance when a governing official in Moscow complained about her, stating that she had accepted several pieces of expensive jewelry from him, only to then marry a fellow danseur and sell the pieces for cash. Sobeshchanskaya was replaced by Pelageya Karpakova who danced the rôle of the Swan Queen until the former was reinstated by Petipa.
The première was not well-received, with near unanimous criticism concerning the dancers, orchestra, and stage sets. Tchaikovsky's masterful score was lost in the debacle of the poor production, and though there were a few critics who recognised its virtues, most considered it to be far too complicated for ballet. Most of the critics were not themselves familiar with ballet or music but rather with spoken melodrama. Critics considered Tchaikovsky's music "too noisy, too 'Wagnerian' and too symphonic." The critics also found fault with Reisinger's choreography which they thought was "unimaginative and altogether unmemorable."
The production's "failure" was due to several reasons. The German origins of the story of Swan Lake were "treated with suspicion while the tale itself was regarded as 'stupid' with unpronounceable surnames for its characters." The dancer of Odette (and probably Odile though this has never been proved for certain) was a secondary soloist and "not particularly convincing."
"The poverty of the production, meaning the décor and costumes, the absence of outstanding performers, the Balletmaster's weakness of imagination, and, finally, the orchestra...all of this together permitted (Tchaikovsky) with good reason to cast the blame for the failure on others."— Modest Tchaikovsky, brother of the composer
Yet the fact remains (and is too often omitted in accounts of this initial production) that this staging survived for six years with a total of 41 performances - many more than several other ballets from the repertoire of this theatre.
Though the original composition of Swan Lake was initially received negatively, with audiences and critics claiming that the music was too complex to be a ballet piece, currently the work is seen as one of Tchaikovsky's most valuable, and surged him into the realm of the most important ballet composers.
Tchaikovsky pas de deux 1877
In spite of the poor reaction to the première, the ballet nevertheless continued to be performed. On 26 April 1877 the prima ballerina of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre Anna Sobeshchanskaya made her début as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, and from the start she was completely dissatisfied with the production of the ballet, but most of all with Reisinger's choreography and Tchaikovsky's music. Sobeshchanskaya travelled to St. Petersburg to have Marius Petipa—Premier Maître de Ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres—choreograph a new pas de deux to replace the pas de six that functioned as the third act's Grand Pas. For a ballerina to request a supplemental pas or variation was standard practice in 19th century ballet, and often these "custom-made" dances quite literally became the legal property of the ballerina they were composed for.
Petipa choreographed Sobeshchanskaya's pas de deux to music composed by Ludwig Minkus, who held the post of Ballet composer to the St Petersburg Imperial Theatres. The piece was a standard pas de deux classique that consisted of a short entrée, the grand adage, a variation for the dancer, a variation for the ballerina, and a coda.
Word of this change soon found its way to Tchaikovsky, who became very angry, stating that, whether the ballet is good or bad, he alone shall be held responsible for its music. He then agreed to compose a new pas de deux for the ballerina, but soon a problem arose: Sobeshchanskaya had no reservations about performing a pas to Tchaikovsky's new music, but she wanted to retain Petipa's choreography, and she had no wish to travel to St. Petersburg again to have the Ballet Master arrange a new pas for her. In light of this, Tchaikovsky agreed to compose a pas that would correspond to Minkus' music to such a degree that the ballerina would not even be required to rehearse. Sobeshchanskaya was so pleased with Tchaikovsky's new version of the Minkus music that she requested he compose for her an additional variation, which he did.
Until 1953 this pas de deux was thought to be lost, until an accidentally discovered repétiteur was found in the archives of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre among the orchestral parts used for Alexander Gorsky's revival of Le Corsaire (Gorsky had included the piece in his version of Le Corsaire staged in 1912). In 1960 George Balanchine choreographed a pas de deux to this music for the Ballerina Violette Verdy, and the Danseur Conrad Ludlow performed on the City Center of Music and Drama in New York City under the title Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, as it is still known and performed today.
Subsequent productions 1879–1894
Julius Reisinger left Moscow in 1879 and his successor as Balletmaster was Joseph Peter Hansen. Hansen made considerable efforts throughout the late 1870s/early 1880s to salvage Swan Lake and on 13 January 1880 he presented a new production of the ballet for his own benefit performance. The part of Odette/Odile was danced by Evdokia Kalmykova, a student of the Moscow Imperial Ballet School, with Alfred Bekefi as Prince Siegfried. This production was far more well-received than the original, though it was by no means a great success. Hansen presented another version of Swan Lake on 28 October 1882, again with Kalmykova as Odette/Odile. For this production Hansen arranged a Grand Pas for the ballroom scene which he titled La Cosmopolitana. This was taken from the European section of the Grand Pas d'action known as The Allegory of the Continents from Marius Petipa's 1875 ballet The Bandits to the music of Ludwig Minkus. Hansen's version of Swan Lake was given only four times, the final performance being on 2 January 1883, and soon the ballet was dropped from the repertory altogether.
In all, Swan Lake was given a total of forty-one performances between its première and the final performance of 1883 – a rather lengthy run for a ballet that was so poorly received upon its premiere. Hansen would go on to become Balletmaster to the Alhambra Theatre in London and on 1 December 1884 he presented a one-act ballet titled The Swans, which was inspired by the second scene of Swan Lake. The music was composed by the Alhambra Theatre's chef d'orchestre Georges Jacoby.
The second scene of Swan Lake was then presented on 21 February in Prague by the Ballet of the National Theatre in a version mounted by the Balletmaster August Berger. The ballet was given during two concerts which were conducted by Tchaikovsky. The composer noted in his diary that he experienced "a moment of absolute happiness" when the ballet was performed. Berger's production followed the 1877 libretto, though the names of Prince Siegfried and Benno were changed to Jaroslav and Zdeňek, with the rôle of Benno danced by a female dancer en travestie. The rôle of Prince Siegfried was danced by Berger himself with the ballerina Giulietta Paltriniera-Bergrova as Odette. Berger's production was only given eight performances and was even planned for production at the Fantasia Garden in Moscow in 1893, but it never materialised.
Petipa–Ivanov–Drigo revival of 1895
During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Petipa and Vsevolozhsky considered reviving Swan Lake and were in talks with Tchaikovsky about doing so. However, Tchaikovsky died on 6 November 1893, just when plans to revive Swan Lake were beginning to come to fruition. It remains uncertain whether Tchaikovsky was even going to revise the music for the prospected revival of Swan Lake. Whatever the case, as a result of Tchaikovsky's death, Drigo was forced to revise the score himself, but not before receiving approval from Tchaikovsky's younger brother, Modest. There are major differences between Drigo's and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake score. (Today, it is Riccardo Drigo's revision of Tchaikovsky's score as done for Petipa and Ivanov's 1895 revival, and not Tchaikovsky's original score of 1877, that many—though by no means all—ballet companies use when performing Swan Lake.)
In February 1894, two memorial concerts planned by Vsevolozhsky were given in honor of Tchaikovsky. The production included the second Act of Swan Lake, choreographed by Lev Ivanov, Second Balletmaster to the Imperial Ballet. Ivanov's choreography for the memorial concert was unanimously hailed as wonderful.
The Ballerina who danced Odette and Odile was the Italian virtuosa Pierina Legnani, and it was because of her great talent that the prospected revival of Swan Lake was planned for her benefit performance in the 1894–1895 season. She had made her début with the Imperial Ballet in Cinderella, produced in December 1893 (choreographed by Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, and Enrico Cecchetti to the music of Baron Boris Fitinhof-Schell). Her performance demonstrated her phenomenal technique, climaxing in her variation from the final tableau no fewer than thirty-two fouettés en tournant (the most ever performed at that time) during the grand pas. The dazzled public roared with demands for an encore, and the Ballerina repeated her variation, this time performing twenty-eight fouettés en tournant. However, the death of Tsar Alexander III on 1 November 1894 and the period of official mourning that followed it brought all ballet performances and rehearsals to a close for some time, and as a result all efforts were able to be concentrated on the pre-production of the revival of Swan Lake. Ivanov and Petipa chose to collaborate on the production, with Ivanov retaining his dances for the second Act while choreographing the fourth, and with Petipa staging the first and third Acts.
Modest Tchaikovsky was called upon to make the required changes to the ballet's libretto, including the character of Odette changing from a fairy swan-maiden into a cursed mortal woman, the ballet's villain changing from Odette's stepmother to the magician von Rothbart, and his revision of the ballet's finale: instead of the lovers simply drowning at the hand of Odette's stepmother as in the original 1877 scenario, Odette commits suicide by drowning herself, with Prince Siegfried choosing to die as well, rather than live without her, and soon the lovers' spirits are reunited in an apotheosis. Aside from the revision of the libretto the ballet was changed from four acts to three—with Act II becoming Act I-Scene 2.
All was ready by the beginning of 1895 and the ballet had its première on Friday, 27 January. Pierina Legnani danced Odette/Odile, with Pavel Gerdt as Prince Siegfried, Alexei Bulgakov as Rothbart, and Alexander Oblakov as Benno.
The première of the Petipa/Ivanov/Drigo revival was quite a success, though not as much of one as it has been in modern times. Most of the reviews in the St. Petersburg newspapers were positive.
Unlike the première of The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake did not dominate the repertory of the Mariinsky Theatre in its first season. It was given only sixteen performances between the première and the 1895–1896 season, and was not performed at all in 1897. Even more surprising, the ballet was performed only four times in 1898 and 1899. The ballet belonged solely to Legnani until she left St. Petersburg for her native Italy in 1901. After her departure, the ballet was taken over by Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who was as much celebrated in the rôle as was her Italian predecessor.
Throughout the long and complex performance history of Swan Lake the 1895 edition of Petipa, Ivanov, and Drigo has served as the version from which many stagings have been based. Nearly every balletmaster or choreographer who has re-staged Swan Lake has sought to make modifications to the ballet's scenario, while still maintaining to a considerable extent the traditional choreography for the dances, which is regarded as virtually sacrosanct. Likewise, over time the rôle of Siegfried has become far more prominent, due largely to the evolution of ballet technique.
In 1940, San Francisco Ballet became the first American company to stage a complete production of Swan Lake. The enormously successful production starred Lew Christensen as Prince Siegfried, Jacqueline Martin as Odette, and Janet Reed as Odile. Willam Christensen based his choreography on the Petipa-Ivanov production, turning to San Francisco's large population of Russian émigrés, headed by Princess and Prince Vasili Alexandrovich of Russia, to help him ensure that the production succeeded in its goal of preserving Russian culture in San Francisco.
Several notable productions have diverged from the original and its 1895 revival:
- Illusions Like "Swan Lake" 1976: John Neumeier Hamburg Ballet, Neumeier interpolated the story of Ludwig II of Bavaria into the Swan Lake plot, via Ludwig's fascination with swans. Much of the original score was used with additional Tchaikovsky material and the choreography combined the familiar Petipa/Ivanov material with new dances and scenes by Neumeier. The ballet finishes with Ludwig's death by drowning while confined to an asylum, set to the dramatic music for the Act Three conclusion. With the theme of the unhappy royal being forced into heterosexual marriage for reasons of state and also the cross reference to the personal lives of actual royalty, this work anticipated both Bourne's and Murphy's interpretation. Illusions Like "Swan Lake" remains in the repertoire of major German ballet companies.
- Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake departed from the traditional ballet by replacing the female corps de ballet with male dancers. Since its inception in 1995, Matthew Bourne's production has never been off the stage for more than a few months. It has toured the United Kingdom and returned to London several times. It has been performed on extended tours in Greece, Israel, Turkey, Australia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, and Ireland in addition to the United Kingdom. Bourne's Swan Lake has won over 30 international awards to date.
- The 2000 American Ballet Theatre version (taped for television in 2005), rather than having the curtain down as the slow introduction is played, used this music to accompany a new prologue in which the audience is shown how Rothbart first transforms Odette into a swan. This prologue is similar to Vladimir Burmeister's production of "Swan Lake" (firstly staged in Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow, 1953) but has some differences. Rothbart in this production is played by two dancers; one appears as a handsome young man who is easily able to lure Odette in the new prologue, and the other dancer is covered in sinister "monster makeup" which reveals the magician's true self. (in the film Black Swan, Natalie Portman, as Nina, dreams this in the film's opening sequence). About half-an-hour of the complete score is omitted from this production.
- Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake was first performed in 2002, and was loosely based on the breakdown of the marriage of Lady Diana to Prince Charles and his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. It combined the rôles of Rothbart and Odile into that of a Baroness, and the focus of the story is a love triangle.
- In 2010, Black Swan, a film starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, contained sequences from Swan Lake.
- In 2010, South African choreographer and ballet dancer Dada Masilo, remade Tchaikovsky's classic. Her version was a mix of classic ballet and African dance. She also made a plot twist by presenting Odile (the black swan) as a gay male swan rather than a female swan.
Swan Lake is scored for the typical late 19th-century large orchestra:
- Strings: violins I and II; violas, violoncellos; double basses
- Woodwinds: piccolo; 2 flutes; 2 oboes; 2 clarinets in B♭, A and C; 2 bassoons
- Brass: 4 French horns in F; 2 cornets in A and B♭; 2 trumpets in F, D, and E; 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass); tuba
- Percussion: timpani; snare drum; cymbals; bass drum; triangle; tambourine; castanets; tam-tam; glockenspiel; chimes
- Other: harp
- Princess Odette (the Swan Queen and the White Swan or also the Swan Princess), a beautiful Princess, who has been transformed into a white swan
- Prince Siegfried, a handsome Prince who falls in love with Odette
- Baron Von Rothbart, an evil sorcerer, who has enchanted Odette
- Odile (the Black Swan), Rothbart's daughter
- Benno von Sommerstern, the Prince's friend
- The Queen, Prince Siegfried's mother
- Wolfgang, his tutor
- Baron von Stein
- The Baroness, his wife
- Freiherr von Schwarzfels
- His wife
- A herald
- A footman
- Court gentlemen and ladies, friends of the prince, heralds, guests, pages, villagers, servants, swans, cygnets
By 1895, Benno von Sommerstern had become just "Benno," and Odette "Queen of the Swans." Also Baron von Stein, his wife, and Freiherr von Schwarzfels and his wife were no longer identified on the program. The sovereign or ruling Princess is often rendered "Queen Mother." Rothbart ("Redbeard") may also be spelled Rotbart.
Princess Odette, the White Swan is the lead ballerina role. Rothbart's daughter Odile is danced by the same ballerina; this facilitates the scene in which Odile, disguised as Odette, tricks Prince Siegfried into being unfaithful. Odette also appears in many adaptations of the ballet.
Odette is often referred to as a "tragic heroine" and is always portrayed as vulnerable, gentle, caring, modest and warm-hearted. She appears in the second and fourth acts, though she also makes a minor appearance in the third act when she appears as a vision during the Ball. As the heroine of the story, she has been transformed into a swan by Rothbart and can only regain her human form at night. She has many companions under the same spell, who have made her their princess, hence her title "The Swan Princess." She is forced to live by a lake that was magically formed from the tears of her grieving mother after Rothbart kidnapped her. The only way for the spell to be broken is by the power of eternal love between Odette and a young man who will remain faithful to her, for if the vow of eternal love is broken, she will remain a swan forever. When Odette falls in love with Prince Siegfried, hope for her freedom has come at last, until Siegfried is tricked into breaking his vow by Rothbart, trapping Odette as a swan forever. To escape the spell, Odette chooses to die and Siegfried chooses to die with her; the lovers drown themselves in the lake and are reunited forever in death.
Prince Siegfried is the lead male ballet dancer role. Like Odette and Rothbart, he appears in many adaptations of the ballet, although he has a different name in almost every one, despite retaining some or all of his characteristics.
Out of all the characters in the ballet, Siegfried is the only one to appear in all four acts. He is a young Prince, full of bright spirit and enthusiasm, and seems to have little interest in his royal role. He clearly cares more for socialising, merry events and sporting activities, as shown when he is celebrating his 21st birthday with his best friend, Benno and his tutor, Wolfgang. When his mother, the Queen tells him he must soon marry, he refuses because he has not yet found a woman of his preference. His favourite hobby is hunting, so to end his birthday celebrations, he and Benno head into the forest on a hunting expedition with their companions. However, everything takes an ironic twist on this expedition, for deep in the forest, Siegfried and his friends arrive at a lake, where Siegfried spots a beautiful swan wearing a crown. But before he can shoot it, the swan transforms into the most beautiful woman he has ever seen: Princess Odette, the Princess of the Swans. Struck by her beauty, Siegfried falls in love with her at once. She tells him her story, explaining that she is under a spell of the evil sorcerer Rothbart. It is at this point in the ballet that Siegfried's carefree spirit is overcome by a sudden growth to manhood out of his love for Odette and from that point, it becomes his goal to save and marry her. He invites her to attend a Ball at his castle and promises to choose her as his bride, but everything takes a turn for the worse.
On the night of the Ball, Siegfried is thinking of nothing but Odette, and after rejecting various potential brides in her favour, he is overjoyed when she finally arrives. But it is actually Rothbart's daughter Odile in disguise, for Rothbart has magically disguised her as Odette. Suspecting nothing, Siegfried falls for the trickery and pledges eternal love to Odile, thinking she is Odette and now all seems lost. Siegfried follows Odette back to the lake and begs her to forgive him, swearing that he loves her only. She forgives him, but explains that she has chosen to die so she can escape Rothbart's spell. Unwilling to live without her, Siegfried chooses to die with Odette and the lovers throw themselves into the lake, reuniting in death for all eternity.
Baron von Rothbart
Rothbart is a powerful and evil sorcerer who casts a spell on Odette that turns her into a swan every day and returns her to human form at night. The reason for Rothbart's curse upon Odette is unknown; several versions, including two feature films, have suggested reasons, but none is typically explained by the ballet.
Rothbart is rarely seen in human form, as he appears as a giant owl in the second and fourth acts. His human form is seen only in the third act with his daughter Odile, when she dances with the Prince Siegfried.
When Rothbart realises that Odette has fallen in love with Prince Siegfried, he tries to intervene by tricking Siegfried into declaring his love for his daughter Odile. The plan succeeds, yet in the end, Rothbart is not triumphant. When Siegfried and Odette make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of their love by throwing themselves into the lake, Rothbart's powers are overcome and he is destroyed.
However, his fate is different in some versions, as there are productions where Rothbart is triumphant and survives. One example is the Bolshoi Ballet's version, where he is portrayed as a sadistic schemer and plays a wicked game of fate with Siegfried, which he wins at the end, causing Siegfried to lose everything. In the second American Ballet Theatre production of Swan Lake, he is portrayed by two dancers. One of them depicts him as young and handsome; it is this Rothbart that is able to lure Odette and transform her into a swan (this is shown during the introduction to the ballet in a danced prologue especially created by choreographer Kevin McKenzie). He is also able to entice the Prince to dance with Odile, and thus seal Odette's doom. The other Rothbart, a repulsive, reptilian-like creature, reveals himself only after he has performed an evil deed, such as transforming Odette into a swan. In this version, the lovers' joint suicide inspires the rest of Rothbart's imprisoned swans to turn on him and overcome his spell, which ultimately defeats him.
Odile, the Black Swan is the daughter of Rothbart, who is also an evil witch and who is willing to follow in her father's footsteps. She only appears in the third act, usually dressed in black (though in the 1895 production, she did not wear black) and magically disguised as Odette in order to help her father trick Siegfried into breaking his vow of love to Odette. In some productions, Odile is known as the Black Swan and, rather than being magically disguised as her, is actually Odette's evil twin or double; an example of this type of portrayal is seen in the production by the Bolshoi Ballet. There are also some productions where Odette and Odile are danced by two different ballerinas.
Below is a synopsis based on the 1895 libretto. Swan Lake is generally presented in either four Acts, four Scenes (primarily outside Russia and Eastern Europe) or three Acts, four Scenes (primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe). Some productions in the West include a prologue that shows the actual transformation by which Princess Odette is first turned into a swan. The biggest difference of productions all over the world is that the ending varies from romantic to tragic.
A magnificent park before a palace.
[Scène: Allegro giusto] Prince Siegfried is celebrating his birthday with his tutor, friends and peasants [Waltz]. The revelries are interrupted by Siegfried's mother, the Queen [Scène: Allegro moderato], who is concerned about her son's carefree lifestyle. She tells him that he must choose a bride at the royal ball the following evening. Siegfried is upset that he cannot marry for love. His friend Benno and the tutor try to lift his troubled mood. As evening falls [Sujet], Benno sees a flock of swans flying overhead and suggests they go on a hunt [Finale I]. Siegfried and his friends take their crossbows and set off in pursuit of the swans.
A lakeside clearing in a forest by the ruins of a chapel. A moonlit night.
Siegfried has become separated from his friends. He arrives at the lakeside clearing, just as a flock of swans land nearby [Scène. Moderato]. He aims his crossbow at the swans [Scène. Allegro moderato-], but freezes when one of them transforms into a beautiful maiden, Odette [Scène. -Moderato]. At first, she is terrified of Siegfried. When he promises not to harm her, she tells him that she is the Swan Queen Odette. She and her companions are victims of a terrible spell cast by the evil owl-like sorcerer Rothbart. By day they are turned into swans and only at night, by the side of the enchanted lake – created from the tears of Odette's mother – do they return to human form. The spell can only be broken if one who has never loved before swears to love Odette forever. Rothbart suddenly appears [Scène. -Allegro vivo]. Siegfried threatens to kill him but Odette intercedes – if Rothbart dies before the spell is broken, it can never be undone.
As Rothbart disappears, the swan maidens fill the clearing [Scène: Allegro, Moderato assai quasi andante]. Siegfried breaks his crossbow, and sets about winning Odette's trust as the two fall in love. But as dawn arrives, the evil spell draws Odette and her companions back to the lake and they are turned into swans again.
An opulent hall in the palace.
Guests arrive at the palace for a costume ball. Six princesses are presented to the prince [Entrance of the Guests and Waltz], one of whom his mother hopes he will choose as his bride. Then Rothbart arrives in disguise [Scène: Allegro, Allegro giusto] with his enchantress daughter, Odile, who has also transformed to appear as Odette in all respects. Though the princesses try to attract the prince with their dances [Pas de six], Siegfried, mistaking Odile for Odette, has eyes only for her and dances with Odile. [Scène: Allegro, Tempo di valse, Allegro vivo] Odette appears as a vision and vainly tries to warn Siegfried that he is being deceived. But Siegfried remains oblivious and proclaims to the court that he intends to make Odile his wife. Rothbart shows Siegfried a magical vision of Odette and he realises his mistake. Grief-stricken, Siegfried hurries back to the lake.
By the lakeside.
Odette is distraught at Siegfried's betrayal. The swan-maidens try to comfort her, but she is resigned to death. Siegfried returns to the lake and finds Odette. He makes a passionate apology. She forgives him and the pair reaffirm their love. Rothbart appears and insists that Siegfried fulfill his pledge to marry Odile, after which Odette will be transformed into a swan forever. Siegfried chooses to die alongside Odette and they leap into the lake. This breaks Rothbart's spell over the swan maidens, causing him to lose his power over them and he dies. In an apotheosis, the swan maidens watch as Siegfried and Odette ascend into the Heavens together, forever united in love.
1877 libretto synopsis
Act 1: Prince Siegfried, his friends, and a group of peasants are celebrating the Prince's coming of age. Siegfried's mother arrives to inform him that she wishes for him to marry soon so that she may make sure that he does not disgrace their family line by his marriage. She has organised a ball where Siegfried is to choose his bride from among the daughters of the nobility. After the celebration Siegfried and his friend Benno spot a flock of flying swans and decide to hunt them.
Act 2: Siegfried and Benno track the swans to a lake, but they vanish. A woman wearing a crown appears and confronts the two men. She tells them that her name is Odette and she was one of the swans they were hunting. She tells them her story: Odette’s mother, a good fairy, had married a knight, but she died and the knight remarried. Odette’s stepmother was a witch who wanted to kill her, but her grandfather saved her. Odette's grandfather had cried so much over the death of Odette’s mother that he created the lake with his tears. Odette and her companions live in the lake with Odette’s grandfather, and can transform themselves into swans whenever they wish. Odette’s stepmother still wants to kill her, and stalks her in the form of an owl, but Odette has a crown which protects her from harm. When Odette gets married the witch will lose the power to harm her. Siegfried falls in love with Odette but Odette fears that the witch will ruin their happiness.
Act 3: Several young noblewomen dance at Siegfried’s ball, but the Prince refuses to marry any of them. Baron von Rothbart and his daughter Odile arrive. Siegfried thinks that Odile looks like Odette, but Benno doesn’t agree. Siegfried dances with Odile, grows more and more enamoured with her, and eventually agrees to marry her. At that moment Rothbart transforms into a demon, Odile laughs, and a white swan wearing a crown appears in the window. The Prince runs out of the castle.
Act 4: In tears, Odette tells her friends that Siegfried did not keep his vow of love. Seeing that Siegfried is coming, Odette’s friends leave and urge her to go with them, but Odette wants to see Siegfried one last time. A storm begins. Siegfried enters and begs Odette for forgiveness. Odette refuses and attempts to leave. Siegfried snatches the crown from her head and throws it in the lake, saying "Willing or unwilling, you will always remain with me!" The owl flies overhead, carrying away the crown. "What have you done? I am dying!" Odette says, and falls into Siegfried’s arms. The lake rises from the storm and drowns Odette and Siegfried. The storm quiets, and a group of swans appears on the lake.
Many different endings exist, ranging from romantic to tragic.
- In 1950, Konstantin Sergeyev staged a new Swan Lake for the Mariinsky Ballet (then the Kirov) after Petipa and Ivanov, but included some bits of Vaganova and Gorsky. Under the Soviet regime, the tragic ending was replaced with a happy one, so that in the Mariinsky and Bolshoi versions, Odette and Siegfried lived happily ever after.
- In the version danced today by the Mariinsky Ballet, the ending is one of a "happily ever after" in which Siegfried fights Rothbart and tears off his wing, killing him. Odette is restored to human form and she and Siegfried are happily united. This version has often been used by Russian and Chinese ballet companies. A similar ending was used in The Swan Princess.
- In the 1986 version Rudolf Nureyev choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet, Rothbart fights with Siegfried, who is overcome and dies, leaving Rothbart to take Odette triumphantly up to the heavens.
- In a version which has an ending very close to the 1895 Mariinsky revival, danced by American Ballet Theatre in 2005, Siegfried's mistaken pledge of fidelity to Odile consigns Odette to remain a swan forever. After realizing that her last moment of humanity is at hand, Odette commits suicide by throwing herself into the lake. The Prince does so as well. This act of sacrifice and love breaks Rothbart's power, and he is destroyed. In the final tableau, the lovers are seen rising together to heaven in apotheosis.
- In a version danced by New York City Ballet in 2006 (with choreography by Peter Martins after Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa, and George Balanchine), the Prince's declaration that he wishes to marry Odile constitutes a betrayal that condemns Odette to remain a swan forever. Odette is called away into swan form, and Siegfried is left alone in grief as the curtain falls.
- In the 2006 version by Stanton Welch for Houston Ballet, also based upon Petipa and Ivanov, the last scene has Prince Siegfried attempting to kill Rothbart with his crossbow, missing and hitting Odette instead. Odette falls, Rothbart's spell now broken, and regains human form. The Prince embraces her as she dies, then carries her lifeless body into the lake, where he also drowns himself.
- In a version danced by San Francisco Ballet in 2009, Siegfried and Odette throw themselves into the lake, as in the 1895 Mariinsky revival, and Rothbart is destroyed. Two swans, implied to be the lovers, are then seen flying past the Moon.
- In a version danced by National Ballet of Canada in 2010, Odette forgives Siegfried for his betrayal and the promise of reconciliation shines momentarily before Rothbart summons forth a violent storm. Rothbart and Siegfried struggle. When the storm subsides, Odette is left alone to mourn the dead Siegfried.
- In the 2012 version performed at Blackpool Grand Theatre by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia the Prince drags Rothbart into the lake and both drown. Odette is left as a swan.
- In the 2015 English National Ballet version My First Swan Lake, specifically recreated for young children, the power of Siegfried and Odette's love enables the other swans to rise up and defeat Rothbart, who falls to his death. This breaks the curse, and Siegfried and Odette live happily ever after.
The score used in this résumé is Tchaikovsky's score as he originally composed it (including later additions of the original 1877 production). The score as listed here is different from the score as revised by Riccardo Drigo for the revival of Petipa and Ivanov that is still used to one extent or another by most ballet companies today. The titles for each number are taken from the original published score. Some of the numbers are titled simply as musical indications, those that are not are translated from their original French titles.
- Introduction: Moderato assai – Allegro non-troppo – Tempo I
- No. 01 Scène: Allegro giusto
- No. 02 Waltz: Tempo di valse
- No. 03 Scène: Allegro moderato
- No. 04 Pas de trois
- 1. Intrada (or Entrée): Allegro
- 2. Andante sostenuto
- 3. Allegro semplice, Presto
- 4. Moderato
- 5. Allegro
- 6. Coda: Allegro vivace
- No. 05 Pas de deux for Two Merry-makers (this number was later fashioned into the Black Swan Pas de Deux)
- 1. Tempo di valse ma non troppo vivo, quasi moderato
- 2. Andante – Allegro
- 3. Tempo di valse
- 4. Coda: Allegro molto vivace
- No. 06 Pas d'action: Andantino quasi moderato – Allegro
- No. 07 Sujet (Introduction to the Dance with Goblets)
- No. 08 Dance with Goblets: Tempo di polacca
- No. 09 Finale: Sujet, Andante
- No. 10 Scène: Moderato
- No. 11 Scène: Allegro moderato, Moderato, Allegro vivo
- No. 12 Scène: Allegro, Moderato assai quasi andante
- No. 13 Dances of the Swans
- No. 14 Scène: Moderato
- No. 15 Scène: March – Allegro giusto
- No. 16 Ballabile: Dance of the Corps de Ballet and the Dwarves: Moderato assai, Allegro vivo
- No. 17 Entrance of the Guests and Waltz: Allegro, Tempo di valse
- No. 18 Scène: Allegro, Allegro giusto
- No. 19 Pas de six.
- 1. Intrada (or Entrée): Moderato assai
- 2. Variation 1: Allegro
- 3. Variation 2: Andante con moto (this number was likely used as an adage after the Intrada but was either accidentally composed and/or published after the first variation)
- 4. Variation 3: Moderato
- 5. Variation 4: Allegro
- 6. Variation 5: Moderato, Allegro semplice
- 7. Grand Coda: Allegro molto
- Appendix I - Pas de deux pour Mme. Anna Sobeshchanskaya (fashioned from the original music by Ludwig Minkus and later choreographed by George Balanchine as the Tchaikovsky Pas de deux)
- No. 20 Hungarian Dance: Czardas – Moderato assai, Allegro moderato, Vivace
- Appendix II - No. 20a Danse russe pour Mlle. Pelageya Karpakova: Moderato, Andante semplice, Allegro vivo, Presto
- No. 21 Danse Espagnole: Allegro non-troppo (Tempo di bolero)
- No. 22 Danse Napolitaine: Allegro moderato, Andantino quasi moderato, Presto
- No. 23 Mazurka: Tempo di mazurka
- No. 24 Scène: Allegro, Tempo di valse, Allegro vivo
- No. 25 Entr'acte: Moderato
- No. 26 Scène: Allegro non-troppo
- No. 27 Dance of the Little Swans: Moderato
- No. 28 Scène: Allegro agitato, Molto meno mosso, Allegro vivace
- No. 29 Scène finale: Andante, Allegro, Alla breve, Moderato e maestoso, Moderato