During a hunt, Prince Siegfried sees a beautiful white swan adorned with a crown. Magically, she transforms into a woman before his eyes. She is Odette, the Swan Queen. Odette explains to Siegfried that she and other maidens like her are under the spell of Von Rothbart, an evil sorcerer. Under his wicked enchantment, she may only return to her original human form for the brief time between midnight and dawn. To break the spell, a man must swear his eternal love to her. Struck by this confession, Prince Siegfried promises to rescue Odette with a pledge of love. Odette replies that this is impossible, but Prince Siegfried declares that he will not marry another, and that he will release her from the spell with his pledge. As dawn breaks, the lovely apparition fades away.
The next evening, an engagement party is being held at the castle. Prince Siegfried will choose his future princess. He and his family are being entertained with dances from around the world. Suddenly a mysterious creature appears at the palace. Prince Siegfried believes the creature to be Odette, but she is Von Rothbart's daughter, Odile, whom her father has transformed in Odette's likeness. Prince Siegfried, blinded by love, mistakenly asks for Odile's hand in marriage. The spell is broken and Von Rothbart triumphs.
Prince Siegfried runs to the lake to find Odette. He finds her weeping for her lost love. Consumed with remorse, Prince Siegfried begs her to forgive him but it is too late. Von Rothbart removes Odette from the Prince forever.
is one of the most popular classical ballets with one of the world's most recognizable scores.
According to dance critic Elizabeth Kendall, "The names on the libretto are Vladimir Begichev (then director of the Bolshoi) and Vasily Geltzer (a Bolshoi dancer and rehearsal master whose daughter later danced the role of Odette-Odile in the United States premiere of the ballet.) But history says that a small group of people wrote the story, friends who met regularly at Begachev's house, a Moscow salon. Some were St. Petersburgers in exile, including Tchaikovsky, who was among the regulars. In fact, some historians believe Tchaikovsky was the main Swan Lake
librettist. First of all, it's a little like Giselle
, which was Tchaikovsky's favorite ballet. Like Giselle, it's set in medieval Germany with a prince who betrays a girl. Moreover, the characters' names are not Russian but German." (Kendall, Mysteries of Swan Lake
In 1875, Begichev commissioned Tchaikovsky to compose a score for the ballet The Lake of the Swan/Swan Lake
. Notably, Swan Lake
was the first ballet set to a score by a symphonic composer. Prior to this, scores for ballets were almost always written by composers known as "specialists" - composers who were highly skilled at scoring the light, decorative, melodious, and rhythmically clear music that was at that time in vogue for ballet.
Tchaikovsky was heavily influenced by the score for Giselle
written in 1844, which featured the use of the technique known as leitmotif (associating certain themes with certain characters or moods). This was a technique he would use in Swan Lake
, and later, The Sleeping Beauty
The very first version of Swan Lake
premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on March 4, 1877 with choreography by Julius Reisinger and music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky. This initial production was supplanted by a new version with choreography by Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa, which was presented for the ?rst time in a complete, four-act production at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on February 8, 1895, with Pierina Legnani in the double role of Odette-Odile (Balanchine and Mason, 101 Stories of the Great Ballets.) It is because of Legnani that the 32 fouettés performed by Odile were included in the ballet - Legnani first performed them in Petipa's Cinderella
, and he included them for her in Swan Lake
The ballet's United States premiere took place at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on December 20, 1911, with Catherine Geltzer as Odette-Odile, Mikhail Mordkin as Prince Siegfried, and Alexandre Volinene as Benno. This version was staged by Mordkin and based on the Ivanov-Petipa choreography. (Balanchine and Mason, 101 Stories of the Great Ballets.)
The Ivanov-Petipa production has formed the basis of most subsequent stagings around the world. Most current versions of Swan Lake
retain the core of what is considered the original Ivanov-Petipa choreography.
Ballet Austin first performed Swan Lake
in September 1999 and again in May 2005 at the Bass Concert Hall in Austin, TX. The company performed Swan Lake
Act II (the White Act) in October 2009 at the Long Center.