Swan Lake

Synopsis

Act I

1.* Ball at the palace
2. Valse
3. Entry of the Prince’s mother
4. Pas de trois (except for sequence II)
5. No. 5 passes intoAct III for the Black
swan’s pas de deux
6. Pas d’action
(here, the Tutor and the Prince)
7. and 8. Danses de coupes (Dance and Polonaise –
danced solely by the male corps de ballet –
a variation by Siegfried has been added:
sequence II of no. 4)
9. Finale (the Prince – who in the traditional
version goes hunting – here remains alone
in his palace)


Prince Siegfried’s twentieth birthday is being celebrated. Wolfgang, the Prince’s tutor, introduces the guests.

The Queen, Siegfried’s mother, enters accompanied by knights, and exhorts the guests to rejoice with her, for the Prince is soon to be married and shall choose his betrothed from the girls whom she herself has invited to the ball.

Pensively, the Prince dreams of an ideal love, and for this reason the Tutor tries to bring him dowm to earth and to remind him of the duties that await him. Siegfried however seems deaf to reason. His spirit seeks to escape the reality that surrounds him and to take refuge in dreams.

* The numbers and titles in italics are those of
Tchaikovsky’s original score and of the first version
of the ballet performed in Moscow in 1877. The
indications in brackets refer to the present version
by Rudolf Nureyev.

Act II

(Joined with Act I)

10. Ouverture
11. Hunt. Entry of Odette
12. Entry of the Swans
13. Danse of the Swans
(sequence from I to VII in the following order:
I.Valse – V.Adage – IV. Petits Pygnes – VI.Grands
Cygnes –
Variation by the Prince normally cut – II.
Variation d’Odette – VII. Coda;
sequence III has
been abolished)
14. Finale

The Prince, absorbed in thought, sees a white swan-woman appear, her head adorned with a crown.

Bewitched, Siegfried approaches her. The swan confides to him that she is a princess named Odette, and that she has been turned into a swan, with other maidens who, like her, are the victims of a spell cast by the wicked Rothbart. The spell can only be broken if a man will swear eternal love to her. Struck by this  confession, Siegfried promises to rescue Odette.

Despite the intervention of an enormous bird of prey (Rothbart) which disturbs their sweet encounters, Odette and Siegfried exchange a pledge of love. Odette’s girl-swans shield the two lovers with their bodies against attack from Rothbart.

Siegfried invites Odette to the ball which his mother, the Queen, is giving the following day and during which he must choose his bride. He insists that Odette attend the ball because he wishes to ask her hand in marriage. Odette replies that this will be impossible, due to her condition as a swan. Siegfried then declares that he will not marry, and swears eternal love to Odette.As dawn rises the apparitions fade away.The Prince is perturbed.

Act III

15. Entry of the guests
16. Dance of the dwarfs
(entry of the Queen)
20. Hungarian czárdás
21. Spanish dance
22. Neapolitan dance
23. Mazurka
17. Valse
(presentation of marriageable girls)
18. Allegro (Entry of Rothbart and Odile)
(no. 19 has been eliminated, leaving room for the
pas de deux by the «Black swan» to the music corresponding
to no. 5 of Act I, with the addition of a
variation by Rothbart, taken fromAct I)
24. Finale

At the palace the master of ceremonies starts the celebrations.

The Queen accompanies Prince Siegfried, who seems however to care about nothing, as if estranged from the world around him. After the divertissement of folk dances from different countries, the young girls aspiring to marry the Prince are presented to him. He however rejects them all, until a mysterious creature who looks incredibly like Odette enters the palace…

As if rapt and subdued by this image, Siegfried has eyes only for her, for this creature in whom he believes he has glimpsed his beloved white swan. But the swan that resembles her so closely is but Odile, daughter of Baron von Rothbart, whom her father has transformed by magic into Odette’s double. And the Prince, blinded by love, asks her hand in marriage. Rothbart triumphs. Siegfried is about to perjure himself. Odette can no longer be saved.

Act IV

(Joined with Act III)

25. Overture
26. Entry of the Swans
27. Dance of the Swans
28. Entry of Odette
29. Final scene
(Entry of Prince.Adagio to the music
of sequence III of no. 19 of Act III. Storm)

 

Siegfried, now increasingly aware of his error, is in deep despair. The vision of he lake returns.At the centre among the swans Odette weeps over her lost love. All hope is extinguished, even though Siegfried’s betrayal has been involuntary.

Consumed with remorse, the Prince beseeches Odette to forgive him, but too late. Rothbart removes Odette from the Prince for ever. His dream ends.*

 

* In the 1877 version, a violent storm swallowed up Odette and Siegfried. In that of 1895, Odette, desperate after Siegfried’s betrayal, threw herself into the lake and Siegfried killed himself in grief. They
both find one another again in the realm of waves for a life together. After the 1917 Revolution, the
protagonists of ballet also somehow had to be assimilated to the concept of «positive heroes». And
precisely in order to comply with this new philosophy, the finale of the ballet was altered. After a
long fight between Rothbart and Siegfried, in the version by Vladimir Bourmeister, Odette resumed
her original human shape and went off with the Prince towards happiness.

 

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