Charles H. Stewart

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Swan Lake

Swan Lake is a ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, composed 1875–1876. The scenario, initially in four acts, by Vladimir Begichev and Vasiliy Geltser was fashioned from Russian folk tales as well as an ancient German legend. It 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 received its premiere on February 20, 1877, at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow 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, Russia. For this revival, Tchaikovsky's score was revised by the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre's chief conductor and composer Riccardo Drigo.


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. Enamored, 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. 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. Conflict ensues when Von Rothbart appears right when Siegfried has decided to swear his love to Odette.


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