Swan Lake

Swan Lake (Russian Лебединое Озеро, Lebedinoje Ozero ) is one of the most famous ballets of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's music. It belongs to the standard repertoire of classical ballet companies. In particular, the Allegro Moderato from the swan dances the second act is in the choreography by Lev Ivanov subject of countless parodies and therefore known as the dance of the four little swans far beyond the ballet audience interested also.

  • 3.1 productions

Plot and libretto

The libretto was written by Vladimir Petrovich Begichev and Vasily Fyodorovich Geltzer and corresponded entirely to the imagination of the composer Tchaikovsky. Meanwhile, the libretto was, however frequently rewritten and altered so that there are different versions with some very different end. The saga of the enchanted swan princess who can be saved only by true love from the spell of the evil wizard, is known by many peoples.

In Swan Lake can be frequent motifs of numerous tales prove: the unhappy enchanted princess in particular, which is redeemed by the love of a prince. Even the unhappy end of the original libretto is a well-known fairy tale motif of the swan girl.


Act 1

In the castle park Prince Siegfried is celebrating his 21st birthday. The king's mother arrives and tenderly reproaches him for his light-heartedness. She reminds him that the next day a Court Ball will take place and it is to choose a bride among the participating guests. The dances are continued until the Prince segregates and is detected by a vague melancholy. In the sky, he sees pass white swans and he decides to go with his friends to hunt.

Act 2

On the shore of Swan Lake, near the castle, the beautiful swan maiden appears in the moonlight, Stepping out of the water. The Prince arrives and wants to create his crossbow, as the swan girl emerges as the Swan Queen in front of him. The Queen tells Siegfried that she is Princess Odette, who has been transformed by the magician Rothbart into a swan. From this spell she could redeem only one who swears her eternal love. Siegfried, overwhelmed by her charm, swears eternal love and fidelity.

The enchantment of lovers finds an echo in the dances of the swans. Odette and the Prince do not notice that they were overheard by Redbeard. The lovers leave the clearing.

Act 3

Hard ball in the castle the next day. Prince Siegfried is to choose his bride. The Prince is dancing with the young brides from different countries, but his thoughts are only with Odette. Unexpectedly, a noble unknown guest is announced: Baron Red Beard with his creature Odile, Odette is the seductive, negative image and in the Prince Siegfried fascinated his beloved Odette believes to recognize. The divertissements with the National dances continue. Expire Siegfried, now completely the evil fascination of the " black Odette ", holds her hand and swears her eternal love and fidelity. Leave in triumph with the successful fraud Rothbart and Odile the ballroom, while Odette white ghost appears in the distance. Siegfried runs desperately to the lake.

Act 4

There are several variants:

Near the lake the swans are awaiting the return of their princess. This comes and tells them what has happened. The Prince arrives at the lake and begs Odette to forgive, and she forgives him. A large wave sent from Redbeard threatens Siegfried drown. Odette throws herself into the flood to save Siegfried. Depending on the staging dies either one of them ( Siegfried and Odette ), or both die or both live happily ever after.


In addition to the technical requirements, the ballet also high demands on the acting skills of the actors. Distinctive role of the play is the dual role of Odette / Odile, the forces beside the dance demands the dancer, the one embodying a lyrical, good character, on the other demonic. After Pierina Legnani danced among others, Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Maria Danilova Margot Fonteyn or famous interpretations of the role. Maja Plissezkajas swan -like arm movements remain to this day unsurpassed in their representation. Currently the world's most successful prima ballerina is in this role the Russian Polina Semionowa, with numerous well-known partners (in Berlin, for example, on the side of Vladimir Malakhov ) dancing Odette / Odile.

Siegfried must at the very moment in which he discovered the fraud, switch from something innocent and happy in love in the role of mad and angry dupes. John Figg describes a strong dramatic effect of the play by " the prince was turned into a living being, who lived through the tragedy, instead of being a human crane, which only removes the ballerina. "

Dance and Music

The roles of Odette and Odile are mostly danced by the same dancer. It is one of the most demanding and stressful roles of classical ballet. There are not only represented two completely different characters, the choreography places the highest demands on the dancer. Among other things, the role requires in one of the most famous scenes in Act 3 fouettés thirty-two. This feat was incorporated into the choreography because it was the specialty of Legnani, the first Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Mariinsky Theatre.



Experienced its world premiere Swan Lake on 20 Februarjul. / March 4 1877greg. in Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre in a production of Julius Wenzel Reisinger with the Prima Ballerina Pelagaja Karpakowa - the performance was characterized by an insufficient preparation and technically deficient performers and just such equipment. The Bolshoi Ballet at that time had not the necessary skills to dance this piece, and so to difficult places were in the music simply deleted and replaced by lighter numbers of other composers. The performance was thus discontinued unpopular and quickly. She suffered as much under the existing circumstances of the ballet, which describes John Cranko in Stuttgart his program notes: " ... historical events have been completely changed, national dances were danced in all the wrong countries and totally inappropriate costumes ... After that was demanded by the composer, to deliver a number of general popular rhythms such as polka, galop, waltz or mazurka. ... The whole thing was rehearsed by a ballet master on a treble violin, so that the dance with the orchestra brought together sometimes represented a strange contrast to the music. The prima ballerina had to be satisfied with the ' numbers ', and she was not there, it was easy to remove the pieces, unconcerned about whether the musical sequence was interrupted or not. " Under these circumstances, Swan flopped unsurprisingly at its premiere.

The productions from 1880 - Tchaikovsky's fame slowly began to grow outside of Russia - had only moderate success, but above all they disfigured the ballet ever. Nikolai D. Kashkin, music critic and director of the Conservatory in Moscow, wrote in his memoirs in 1896:

" The replacement of the original numbers by inserted was practiced in ever greater degree, and finally a full third of the music of Swan Lake by inserts from other ballets was almost replaced, also mostly just average. "

The to date relevant production was on 17 Februar/15. January 1895 listed at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. The choreography was by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Subsequent productions leaned usually very close to this version at. The Petersburg probably came through concert performances of the second act in the Mariinsky Theatre in 1894 with the idea to revive the ballet. On behalf of the St. Petersburg theater director Ivan Vsevolozhsky revised Tchaikovsky's brother Modest the score fundamentally. The staging was also only a moderate success, it was unauthorized, because there is no evidence that Tchaikovsky himself ever a makeover into consideration moved, but they influenced the entire subsequent performance practice deeply.

Petipa himself did not count on the success and met no provision for further performance practice: Neither he made the choreography write down step by step, yet he met dispose of dealing with the choreography after his death. In 1934 came with the London - emigrants Nikolai Sergeyev even a reasonably complete record of the version in the West. The first performance of the Kirov Ballet in the West had to wait until 1969.

Alternative interpretations

Known productions come from George Balanchine (New York), Bourmeister (Moscow), Orlikowski (Basel ) and John Cranko (Stuttgart 1972/73 ).

Among the best known interpretations of Swan Lake is one of John Neumeier's Illusions - like Swan Lake, which was premiered in 1976 in Hamburg.

Even more successful was Matthew Bourne 's Swan Lake, where the swans are only danced by men. This choreography was premiered in London in 1995 at the Sadler 's Wells Theatre. She also enjoyed success on tours throughout Europe, North America and Japan.

Complete Recordings (selection)