Sleeping Beauty (Op. 66) (Russian: Спящая красавица, Spjaščaja krasavica) is one of the classical repertoire's famous ballets, with the musical score composed by Tchaikovsky.
Tchaikovsky was approached by the Director of the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg, Ivan Vsevolozhsky on 25 May 1888 about a possible musical treatment of a ballet based on Charles Perrault's 'La Belle au bois Dormant'. Tchaikovsky did not hesitate to accept the commission although he was aware that his only previous ballet, Swan Lake met with little enthusiasm at that stage of his career. The ballet scenario Tchaikovsky worked on was based on the Brothers Grimm version of Perrault's work entitled 'Dornröschen' which ends with the Princess' parents (the King and the Queen) having survived the 100 years sleep to celebrate the Princess' wedding to the Prince although Vsevolozhsky wisely adapted some of Perrault's works into the ballet. Regardless, Tchaikovsky was happy to inform the Director of the Imperial Theatre that he had great pleasure studying the work and had come away with adequate inspiration to do it justice.
The choreographer was the great Marius Petipa, unrivaled Balletmaster of the Imperial Ballet, who wrote a detailed list of instructions as to the musical requirments. Tchaikovsky worked quickly on the new work at his home in Frolovskoye where he began initial sketches in the winter of 1888 and began orchestration on the work on 30 May 1889. His brother Modest Tchaikovsky, also noted that Tchaikovsky readily complied with Petipa's suggestions and wrote indefatigably than his previous ballet.
The ballet's focus was undeniably on the two main conflicting forces of good (the Lilac Fairy) and evil (Carabosse), where a leitmotif representing both of them runs through the entire ballet serving as an important thread to the underlying plot. Act 3 of the work, however, takes a complete break from the two motifs and instead places focus on the individual characters of the various court dances. Tsar Alexander III and his family were present during one of the general rehearsals. Upon leaving, he made the simple remark 'Very nice,' which seemed to have irritated Tchaikovsky, who had likely expected a more favorable reponse.
The ballet's premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on 15 January 1890 received more favorable accolades than Swan Lake from the press but Tchaikovsky never had the luxury of being able to witness his work become an instant success in theatres outside of Russia. He died in 1893. By 1903 Sleeping Beauty was the second most popular ballet in the reperotry of the Imperial Ballet (the Petipa/Pugni The Pharoah's Daughter was first), hainvg been performed 200 times in only 10 years.
A production mounted at the La Scala in Milan did not arouse much interest and it was not until 1921 where, in London, the ballet finally gained wide acclaim and eventually a permanent place in the classical repertoire. It is Tchaikovsky's longest ballet, lasting well over two hours at full length. On television, it is nearly always cut.
King Florestan the XIVth declares a grand christening ceremony to be held in honor of the birth of his daughter Princess Aurora. An entourage of all the fairies in the kingdom is invited to bestow gifts on the new-born. As the fairies are happily granting gifts of beauty, generosity, grace, song and temperament, they are suddenly interrupted by the sudden presence of the evil fairy Carabosse, who is furious at the King's failure to invite her to the ceremony. With spite and rage, Carabosse declares her curse on Princess Aurora: she will one day prick her finger and die. The Lilac Fairy, fortunately, has not granted her gift to the Princess. She acknowledges that Carabosse's power is immense and she cannot completely reverse the curse. However, she declares, although the Princess will prick her finger, the Princess will not die, but instead sleep for 100 years. The Princess will only be awoken by the kiss of a Prince.
It is Princess Aurora's 18th birthday. Celebrations are already elaborately planned and the atmosphere is festive, made complete with a waltz. Aurora receives four suitors and their gifts of exquisite roses. Soon after, Aurora accidentally takes hold of a bouquet of roses where Carabosse has deviously hidden a poison needle and pricks herself. Carabosse immediately reveals her true wicked self triumphantly and vanishes before the astonished guests. At the same moment, the Lilac Fairy appears as she had promised. The Princess and the court will sleep for a hundred years before the arrival of the Prince.
100 years later, Prince Desire is at a hunting party with his companions. In the forest, he suddenly sees a vision of Aurora and is entranced by her beauty. The Prince pleads with the Lilac Fairy to bring him to see Princess Aurora which the latter consents. The Prince discovers the castle, which is now overgrown in thick vines. He first defeats the evil Carabosse. Now inside the castle, the Prince finds Aurora and awakens her with a kiss. The Prince then declares his love for Aurora and proposes to her. The King and the Queen are happy to give their blessings.
The third act has virtually no plot, as the main story has already concluded. Preparations for the wedding are made. On the day of the festivities, the Fairies of the Kingdom are invited again. Many fairytale characters, such as Puss in Boots and the White Cat, are also among the guests. A golden chain of dances is held, culminating in a celebration dance. The Prince and the Princess are wed, and the Lilac Fairy blesses their marriage. The ballet ends with an apotheosis (apothéose) where all the characters make a final bow.