In March 2022, without our mentioning it, the 145th anniversary of the premiere of Swan Lake was completed. The work that composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was fully involved in creating, but which was a failure initially, has now become one of the most popular ballets of all time.
Inspired by Russian and German folk tales about the princess transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse, Swan Lake is a romantic and moving work and was a project commissioned by the Bolshoi Ballet, at the time led by choreographer Julius Reisinger. It was the first ballet written by Tchaikovsky, who overcame his initial prejudice, even though he was a fan of the works of Léo Delibes in Sylvia and Adolphe Adam in Giselle, both using the Leitmotif technique, which is to associate certain themes with certain characters or climate. The composer used leitmotifs in both Swan Lake and, later, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. The famous swan theme, which opens the second act, is a leitmotif, for example.
Not all music was written directly for the work. Tchaikovsky also used old, unfinished pieces to create his score for Swan Lake, including his version of the story that had been staged in his home with his nephews and which already included the swan theme. He also used material from unfinished operas such as The Voyevoda and Undina.
However, the beauty and richness of the music was not enough for the original choreographer, who found it difficult as a complicated score to be used in steps. Boos, unanimous criticism traumatized the composer and shelved this masterpiece for years. It was after Tchaikovsky’s death that Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov created his version, for the Imperial Ballet (today Mariinsky) and it is this production that has served as the basis for all versions until today.
The “ultimate” version premiered on January 15, 1895, and Tchaikovsky, who initially had a greater attachment to the music of this ballet, never knew how right he was. Even though, after listening to Sylvia‘s music, he suggested that he would never be able to come close to Léo Delibes‘ work. We passionate about the “Lake”, we disagree, of course.
Dancing the roles of Odette-Odile in Swan Lake completes the process of transforming ballerinas into prima ballerinas, and there are several renowned interpretations of the role. Subject for another post!