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SWAN LAKE
Ballet in three actions




SWAN LAKE
Ballet in three actions

Swan Lake

Swan Lake ballet, op. 20, by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, was composed 1875–1876. The scenario, initially in four 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. The ballet was premièred by the Bolshoi Ballet on March 4 [O.S. February 20] 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, billed as The Lake of the Swans. 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 January 15, 1895, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. For this revival, Tchaikovsky's score was revised[clarification needed] by the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre's chief conductor and composer Riccardo Drigo.

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-Davydov—the composer had earlier created a little ballet called The Lake of the Swans at their home in 1871. This ballet featured the famous leitmotif known as the Swan's Theme (or Song of the Swans ). Begichev commissioned the score of Swan Lake from Tchaikovsky in 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 initially Tchaikovsky worked without complete knowledge of Reisinger’s specific requirements. 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 each other as possible.

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