The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on Sunday, 18 December 1892, on a double-bill with Tchaikovsky’s opera, Iolanta, was not considered a success, yet has become one of the most performed ballets in history.
The Nutcracker and the King of Mice – Tchaikovsky Brings to Life the E.T.A. Hoffmann Story
When Marius Petipa had the idea to choreograph the story into a two-act ballet, it was actually based on a revision by Alexander Dumas, a well known French author. Although what is seen on the stage today is different in detail from the original story, the basic plot remains the same: The story of a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince, who must battle against a fierce Mouse King with seven heads. Following is a synopsis of the story…
The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Act 1, performed The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London 28 Dec. 2008.
A Magician Delivers a Gift at the Party Scene
It is Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum house — large and grand with a beautifully decorated tree. The Stahlbaums host their annual Christmas party and the children, Marie (usually changed to Clara in the ballet) and Fritz, dance and play as the guests arrive.
The party grows festive with music and dance and as the owl-topped clock strikes eight, godfather Drosselmeyer arrives. He is a skilled clock and toy maker and a magician. Drosselmeyer draws everyone’s attention as he presents four life-size dolls. They are the delight of the party, each taking a turn to dance.
The children begin to open gifts when Drosselmeyer presents his to Marie and Fritz. Although his gift to Fritz is quite nice, he gives Marie a beautiful Nutcracker that becomes the hit of the party. Fritz becomes jealous, grabs the nutcracker from Marie and breaks it. Marie is heartbroken looking on as Drosselmeyer quickly repairs the Nutcracker with a handkerchief he magically draws from the air.
As the evening grows late, the guests depart and the Stahlbaum family retires for the evening. Marie, worried about her beloved Nutcracker, sneaks back to the tree to check on him, falling asleep with him in her arms.
The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Act 2, performed The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London 28 Dec. 2008.
The Nutcracker Battles the King of Mice
As the clock strikes midnight, Marie sees Drosselmeyer perched atop the clock in place of the owl. Suddenly, mice fill the room and the Christmas tree grows to dizzying heights. The Nutcracker also grows to life-size. Clara finds herself in the midst of a battle between an army of Gingerbread man soldiers and the mice, led by the fierce Mouse King. The mice begin to eat the gingerbread soldiers.
The Nutcracker appears to lead the gingerbread soldiers, joined by tin soldiers and dolls who doctor the wounded. The Mouse King corners the Nutcracker and battles him one-on-one. The Nutcracker seems to be no match for the Mouse King. The Nutcracker and his army can go on no longer and are captured by the mice and their King. As the Mouse King advances on the still-wounded Nutcracker, Marie throws her slipper at him, distracting him long enough for the Nutcracker to stab him.
The Mouse King drops to the floor and the mice run away, carrying off their leader’s lifeless body.
The Land of Snow: An Enchanted Forest Wonderland
The Nutcracker transforms into a handsome Prince and takes Marie on a journey to the Land of Snow, an enchanted forest wonderland where they are welcomed by dancing snowflakes.
Celebrating the World in the Land of Sweets
Marie and the Prince travel in a nutshell boat pulled by dolphins to the beautiful Land of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Prince’s place until his return. The Prince recounts for the Sugar Plum Fairy how he had been saved by Marie from the Mouse King and had been transformed back into a Prince.
In honor of the young heroine, a celebration of sweets from around the world is produced: chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia, and tea from China all dance for their amusement. Candy canes spin round from Russia and Danish shepherdesses perform on their flutes. Mother Gigogne (Ginger) has her children emerge from under her enormous skirt to dance; a string of beautiful flowers perform a waltz. To conclude the night, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform a Grand Pas De Deux dance.
A final waltz is performed by all the sweets, after which Clara and the Prince are crowned rulers of The Land of Sweets. Soon, however, the people of the land of the sweets disappear one by one, until the Nutcracker Prince himself disappears.
Marie Awakens into the Dream
Marie is found sleeping in the parlor. The Nutcracker Doll remains under the Christmas tree. Marie awakens, was it a dream? She finds her crown sitting beside her and wonders. She walks to the Christmas tree with her Nutcracker, going back to sleep into the wonderful land of dreams.