A scene from Swan Lake'
s fourth act: Odette amid the swans.
Swan Lake (ru. Лебединое Озеро), Tchaikovsky's 20th opus, is one of the most famous and critically acclaimed ballets of all time. It conveys the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer's curse.
Premiere and revisions
The original ballet was first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia on February 20, 1877. The premiere received mixed reviews: While Tchaikovsky's score was readily admired, the choreography by Jules Reisinger was not. In addition, the production had costumes and scenery that wore out quickly over time. Swan Lake remained in the Imperial Ballet's repertoire until 1883. Contrary to popular belief, the first staging was not a failure; it was performed more often than most other ballets of the decade.
In 1894, as a memorial performance for the deceased Tchaikovsky, the choreographer and second Balletmaster to the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, Lev Ivanov, staged the ballet's second act. In 1895 it was decided that the full-length ballet be mounted. The choreographer Marius Petipa staged acts I and III, while Ivanov would stage the "white" scenes: his previously retained "Swan" choreography for Act II and a new Act IV conclusion. The composer/conductor Riccardo Drigo revised Tchaikovsky's score according to Petipa's instructions, and Tchaikovsky's brother Modeste revised the libretto slightly. This revised version premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on January 15, 1895. It has served as the basis both musically and choreographically for nearly every subsequent production of Swan Lake all over the world.
A single dancer dances the twin roles of Odette and Odile, which is one of the most taxing of all roles because it requires acting two entirely contrasting characters, as well as dancing the strenuous showpiece choreography which includes thirty-two fouettés en tournant. This feat was put into the choreography of the Black Swan Pas de deux as a tour de force by the great Italian Ballerina Pierina Legnani. Pavel Gerdt played Prince Siegfried, though the danseur Alexander Gorsky danced the variation of the ballroom scene.
Swan Lake begins at a royal court. Prince Siegfried, heir to the kingdom, must declare a wife at his birthday ball. Upset that he cannot marry for love, Siegfried escapes into the forest at night. As he sees a flock of swans flying overhead, he aims his crossbow and readies himself for their landing by the lakeside. When one comes into view, however, he stops; before him is a beautiful creature dressed in white feathers, more woman than swan. Enamoured, the two dance and Siegfried learns that the swan maiden is the princess Odette. An evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart, captured her and used his magic to turn Odette into a swan by day and woman by night.
Odile impersonates Odette to ensnare Prince Siegfried in the ballet's third act.
A retinue of other captured swan-maidens attend Odette in the environs of Swan Lake, which was formed by the tears of her parents when she was kidnapped by Von Rothbart. Once Siegfried knows her story, he takes great pity on her and falls in love. As he begins to swear his love to her - an act that will render the sorcerer's spell powerless - Von Rothbart appears. Siegfried threatens to kill him but Odette intercedes; if Von Rothbart dies before the spell is broken, it can never be undone!
The Prince returns to the castle to attend the ball. Von Rothbart arrives in disguise with his own daughter Odile, making her seem identical to Odette in all respects except that she wears black while Odette wears white. The prince mistakes her for Odette, dances with her, and proclaims to the court that he intends to make her his wife. Only a moment too late, Siegfried sees the real Odette and realizes his mistake. The method in which Odette appears varies: in some versions she arrives at the castle, while in other versions Von Rothbart shows Siegfried a magical vision of her.
At this point versions of the ballet diverge. Many different endings exist, ranging from Romantic to Tragic. Among them are the following:
- The true love between Siegfried and Odette defeats Von Rothbart, who dies after the prince breaks one of his wings. Odette is restored to human form to unite happily with the prince. This version has been used in the former Soviet Union and China.
- In the version currently (2006) danced by American Ballet Theatre, Siegfried's mistaken pledge of fidelity to Odile consigns Odette to eternal swanhood. 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 Von Rothbart's power, and he is destroyed. In the final tableau, the lovers are seen rising together to heaven in apotheosis.
- Siegfried journeys to the lake to beg forgiveness from Odette and takes her in his arms, but she dies. The lake's waters consume the lovers.
- In the version currently (2006) danced by New York City Ballet (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.
Tchaikovsky's score for Swan Lake was unusual in 1877 and it is unusual now, more of a symphonic poem than dance accompaniment. There is nothing else like it in all of Classical (Romantic) period music.
The score is orchestrated for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four French horns, two cornets, two trumpets, three trombones, a tuba, a set of timpani drums, a triangle, a tambourine, castanets, a snare drum, cymbals, a bass drum, a gong, a glockenspiel, a harp, and a full complement of strings.
Because interpolations, cuts, and rearrangements of the music occurred during and after Tchaikovsky's lifetime, any list of the musical numbers is a subjective enterprise that depends on what era of performance is being examined. The list below represents one such arrangement:
- Act I
- Introduction : Moderato assai - Allegro non troppo - Tempo I
Scene from Act III: The Queen and Prince Siegfried
- No. 1 Scène : Allegro guisto
- No. 2 Valse : Tempo di valse
- No. 3 Scène : Allegro moderato
- No. 4 Pas de trois
- I. Intrada : Allegro
- II. Andante sostenuto
- III. Allegro simplice - Presto
- IV. Moderato
- V. Allegro
- VI. Coda : Allegro vivace
- No. 5 Pas de deux
- I. Tempo di valse ma non troppo vivo, quasi moderato
- II. Andante - Allegro
- III. Tempo di valse
- IV. Coda : Allegro molto vivace
- No. 6 Pas d'action : Andantino quasi moderato - Allegro
- No. 7 Sujet
- No. 8 Danse des coupes : Tempo di polacca
- No. 9 Finale : Sujet : Andante
- Act II
- No. 10 Scène : Moderato
- No. 11 Scène : Allegro moderato - Moderato - Allegro vivo
- No. 12 Scène : Allegro - Moderato assai quasi andante
- No. 13 Danse des cygnes
- I. Tempo di valse
- II. Moderato assai
- III. Tempo di valse
- IV. Allegro moderato
- V. Pas d'action : Andante - Andante non troppo - Tempo I - Allegro
- VI. Tempo di valse
- VII. Coda : Allegro vivo
- No. 14 Scène : Moderato
- Act III
- No. 15 Scène : Allegro giusto
- No. 16 Danse du corps de ballet et des nains : Moderato assai - Allegro vivo
- No. 17 La sortie des invités et la valse : Allegro - Tempo di valse
- No. 18 Scène : Allegro - Allegro giusto
- No. 19 Pas de six. Intrada : Moderato assai
- Var. I. Allegro
- Var. II. Andante con moto
- Var. III. Moderato
- Var. IV. Allegro
- Var. V. Moderato - Allegro simplice
- Coda : Allegro molto
- Appendix I. Pas de deux
- No. 20 Danse hongroise. Czardas : Moderato assai - Allegro moderato - Vivace
- Appendix II. Danse russe : Moderato - Andante simplice - 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 - Valse - Allegro vivo
- Act IV
- No. 25 Entr'acte : Moderato
- No. 26 Scène : Allegro non troppo
- No. 27 Danse des petits cygnes : Moderato
- No. 28 Scène : Allegro agitato - Molto meno mosso - Allegro vivace
- No. 29 Scène finale : Andante - Allegro agitato - Alla breve. Moderato e maestoso - Moderato
- Translated titles
The titles of the various compositions from Swan Lake are traditionally given in French. The following is a list of common English translations:
No. 8 Dance of the Cups/Goblets
No. 13 Dance of the Swans
No. 16 Dance of the Corps de Ballet and the Dwarves
No. 17 Entrance of the Guests and Waltz
No. 20 Hungarian Dance
Appendix II: Russian Dance
No. 21 Spanish Dance
No. 22 Neapolitan Dance
No. 27 Dance of the Cygnets/Little Swans
- Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake: First danced in London in 1995, this version departed from the traditional ballet by replacing the female corps de ballet with male dancers. A recording of the ballet for TV was aired in the UK in 1996. It was also released on home video. 
- David McAllister's Swan Lake: An adaptation first performed in 2002 that combines the roles of Von Rothbart and Odile into that of a Baroness. The focus of the story is a love triangle: Siegfried and Odette are married, but the heroine soon learns that the Prince has had an affair with the Baroness. Odette has a mental breakdown and is institutionalized. 
- Swan Lake (1978): An anime directed by Kimio Yabuki which uses Tchaikovsky's score and remains relatively faithful to the story. 
- The Swan Princess (1994) and its three sequels: Animated features in the Disney style which use the original story (albeit heavily edited) as a starting point. Features none of Tchaikovsky's music.
- Barbie of Swan Lake (2003): A direct-to-video children's movie featuring motion capture from the New York City Ballet. Some character's names do not correspond with those in the ballet.
- Princess Tutu (2003) an anime, where "Duck" (Odette) does not confess her love to the prince but "Rue" (Odile) does, so the prince takes "Rue" as his "Princess" and together the prince and Odile defeat "the Raven"(Von Rothbart) and "Duck" remains a duckling.
- The Black Swan (1999): A fantasy novel written by Mercedes Lackey that re-imagines the original story and focuses heavily on Odile. Von Rothbart's daughter is a sorceress in her own right who comes to sympathize with Odette.
- Computer and video games
- The graphic adventure game LOOM, published in 1990 by Lucasfilm Games, borrowed story elements from the ballet, and also featured excerpts from Tchaikovsky's score in its soundtrack.
- The music in the Moderato Scene is reminiscent of one of the themes in the first movement of Schubert's 8th Symphony.
- The melancholic music at the beginning of the fouth act was actually composed by Tchaikovsky for his first opera, The Voyevoda, which was performed only once in 1869 and then destroyed by the composer.
- The Russian ballerina, Anna Sobeschenskaya - for whom the original (1877) role of Odette was intended - was pulled from the premiere 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. Sobeschenskaya was replaced by Polina Karpakova who danced the role of the Swan Queen until the former was reinstated by Petipa.