Swan Lake was composed by Tchaikovsky in 1875 through 1876. It premiered on February 20, 1877 at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow under the name “The Lake of the Swans”. There is some controversy concerning the exact origins of the story: the libretto is loosely based on “Der geraubte Schleier” (The Stolen Veil) by German author Johann Karl August Musäus but the story is also close to the Russian folktale “The White Duck”.
Swan Lake is the most technically and emotionally challenging classical ballet. Its music far exceeded its time, noting that many of its early performers claimed it was too difficult and complex to dance to. Much is unknown of its original production, but its revised production by the famous choreographers Petipa and Ivanov is the base of the many versions we see today. Swan Lake will always be held as the standard of classical ballets and will be performed throughout the centuries to come.
THE STORY: Swan Lake is the story of the Man-Bird and Evil Sorcerer Rothbart who turns the Princess Odette into a swan. Meanwhile, Prince Siegfried’s birthday is to be celebrated at the Palace with much fanfare and entertainment. During the birthday celebrations the Queen gives her son a crossbow and also tells him that he is now of age and expected to marry. Later Prince Siegfried sets out to hunt swans with his mother’s present.
At the lake Rothbart disappears into the forest as he sees Prince Siegfried approaching the lake. There the Prince encounters Odette, Queen of the Swans, whose captivating beauty him. Rothbart reappears causing Odette to flee with the Prince following her. The Prince again returns to the lake still seeking Odette; he finds her and promises his love for her forever when Rothbart again appears and steals Odette away. Prince Siegfried is left abandoned and saddened at the lakeside.
Now a formal celebration is held in honor of Prince Siegfried’s birthday with guests from everywhere and the presentation by the Queen of six princesses from whom to select a bride. Prince Siegfried’s heart remains loyal to Odette. The evil Rothbart disguises his daughter Odile as Odette and presents her to the Prince. Among many dances and the celebration, Siegfried and Odile dance together. Siegfried come to think that Odile is his true love and pledges his love to her breaking his promise to Odette. Rothbart shows Odette that Prince Siegfried’s promise has been broken and Rothbart and Odile leave. Prince Siegfried’s desperately searches for and finds Odette and begs for her forgiveness and the entire court is confused and bewildered.
Odette returns to the lake followed by Siegfried who begs her forgiveness. Then Rothbart again appears reminding Prince Siegfried of his promise to Odile followed by a terrible fight. Odette can no longer accept the confusion and turmoil and throws herself into the lake followed by Siegfried where together the lovers both drown. The act of Prince Siegfried and Odette destroys Rothbart and his evil and eternal love prevails.