The Nutcracker (Russian: Щелкунчик, Балет-феерия / Shchelkunchik, Balet-feyeriya; French: Casse-Noisette, ballet-féerie) is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (op. 71). The libretto is adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King", by way of Alexandre Dumas' adapted story "The Nutcracker". It was given its premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on Sunday, December 18, 1892, on a double-bill with Tchaikovsky's opera Iolanta.
- St Petersburg premiere
- Subsequent productions
- Act I
- Act II
- From the Imperial Ballets 1892 program
- Tchaikovskys sources and influences
- Tchaikovsky Suite from the ballet The Nutcracker
- Grainger Paraphrase on Tchaikovskys Flower Waltz for solo piano
- Pletnev Concert suite from The Nutcracker for solo piano
- Selected discography
- Contemporary arrangements
- In popular culture
- Video games
- Childrens recordings
Although the original production was not a success, the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. However, the complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the late 1960s and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in North America. Major American ballet companies generate around 40% of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker.
Tchaikovsky's score has become one of his most famous compositions, in particular the pieces featured in the suite. Among other things, the score is noted for its use of the celesta, an instrument that the composer had already employed in his much lesser known symphonic ballad The Voyevoda.
After the success of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theatres, commissioned Tchaikovsky to compose a double-bill program featuring both an opera and a ballet. The opera would be Iolanta. For the ballet, Tchaikovsky would again join forces with Marius Petipa, with whom he had collaborated on The Sleeping Beauty. The material Petipa chose was an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann's story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by Alexandre Dumas père called The Tale of the Nutcracker. The plot of Hoffmann's story (and Dumas' adaptation) was greatly simplified for the two-act ballet. Hoffmann's tale contains a long flashback story within its main plot titled The Tale of the Hard Nut, which explains how the Prince was turned into the Nutcracker. This had to be excised for the ballet.
Petipa gave Tchaikovsky extremely detailed instructions for the composition of each number, down to the tempo and number of bars. The completion of the work was interrupted for a short time when Tchaikovsky visited the United States for twenty-five days to conduct concerts for the opening of Carnegie Hall. Tchaikovsky composed parts of The Nutcracker in Rouen, France.
St. Petersburg premiere
The first performance of the ballet was held as a double premiere together with Tchaikovsky's last opera, Iolanta, on 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1892, at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Although the libretto was by Marius Petipa, who exactly choreographed the first production has been debated. Petipa began work on the choreography in August 1892; however, illness removed him from its completion and his assistant of seven years, Lev Ivanov, was brought in. Although Ivanov is often credited as the choreographer, some contemporary accounts credit Petipa. The performance was conducted by Riccardo Drigo, with Antonietta Dell'Era as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Pavel Gerdt as Prince Coqueluche, Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara, Sergei Legat as the Nutcracker-Prince, and Timofey Stukolkin as Drosselmeyer. The children's roles, unlike many later productions, were performed by real children rather than adults (with Belinskaya as Clara, and Vassily Stukolkin as Fritz), students of Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg.
The first performance of The Nutcracker was not deemed a success. The reaction to the dancers themselves was ambivalent. While some critics praised Dell'Era on her pointework as the Sugar Plum Fairy (she allegedly received five curtain-calls), one critic called her "corpulent" and "podgy". Olga Preobrajenskaya as the Columbine doll was panned by one critic as "completely insipid" and praised as "charming" by another.
Alexandre Benois described the choreography of the battle scene as confusing: "One can not understand anything. Disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards – quite amateurish."
The libretto was criticized for being "lopsided" and for not being faithful to the Hoffmann tale. Much of the criticism focused on the featuring of children so prominently in the ballet, and many bemoaned the fact that the ballerina did not dance until the Grand Pas de Deux near the end of the second act (which did not occur until nearly midnight during the program). Some found the transition between the mundane world of the first scene and the fantasy world of the second act too abrupt. Reception was better for Tchaikovsky's score. Some critics called it "astonishingly rich in detailed inspiration" and "from beginning to end, beautiful, melodious, original, and characteristic". But even this was not unanimous as some critics found the party scene "ponderous" and the Grand Pas de Deux "insipid".
In 1919, choreographer Alexander Gorsky staged a production which eliminated the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier and gave their dances to Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, who were played by adults instead of children. His was the first production to do so. An abridged version of the ballet was first performed outside Russia in Budapest (Royal Opera House) in 1927, with choreography by Ede Brada. In 1934, choreographer Vasili Vainonen staged a version of the work that addressed many of the criticisms of the original 1892 production by casting adult dancers in the roles of Clara and the Prince, as Gorsky had. The Vainonen version influenced several later productions.
The first complete performance outside Russia took place in England in 1934, staged by Nicholas Sergeyev after Petipa's original choreography. Annual performances of the ballet have been staged there since 1952. Another abridged version of the ballet, performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, was staged in New York City in 1940, Alexandra Fedorova – again, after Petipa's version. The ballet's first complete United States performance was on 24 December 1944, by the San Francisco Ballet, staged by its artistic director, Willam Christensen, and starring Gisella Caccialanza as the Sugar Plum Fairy. After the enormous success of this production, San Francisco Ballet has presented Nutcracker every Christmas Eve and throughout the winter season, debuting new productions in 1944, 1954, 1967, and 2004. The New York City Ballet gave its first annual performance of George Balanchine's staging of The Nutcracker in 1954. Beginning in the 1960s, the tradition of performing the complete ballet at Christmas eventually spread to the rest of the United States.
Since Gorsky, Vainonen and Balanchine's productions, many other choreographers have made their own versions. Some institute the changes made by Gorsky and Vainonen while others, like Balanchine, utilize the original libretto. Some notable productions include those by Rudolf Nureyev for the Royal Ballet, Yuri Grigorovich for the Bolshoi Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov for the American Ballet Theatre, and Peter Wright for the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. In recent years, revisionist productions, including those by Mark Morris, Matthew Bourne, and Mikhail Chemiakin have appeared; these depart radically from both the original 1892 libretto and Vainonen's revival, while Maurice Bejart's version completely discards the original plot and characters. In addition to annual live stagings of the work, many productions have also been televised and/or released on home video.
The following extrapolation of the characters (in order of appearance) is drawn from an examination of the stage directions in the score.
Below is a synopsis based on the original 1892 libretto by Marius Petipa. The story varies from production to production, though most follow the basic outline. The names of the characters also vary. In the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story, the young heroine is called Marie Stahlbaum and Clara (Klärchen) is her doll's name. In the adaptation by Dumas on which Petipa based his libretto, her name is Marie Silberhaus. In still other productions, such as Baryshnikov's, Clara is Clara Stahlbaum rather than Clara Silberhaus.
Scene 1: The Stahlbaum Home
It is Christmas Eve. Family and friends have gathered in the parlor to decorate the beautiful Christmas tree in preparation for the party. Once the tree is finished, the children are sent for. They stand in awe of the tree sparkling with candles and decorations.
The party begins. A march is played. Presents are given out to the children. Suddenly, as the owl-topped grandmother clock strikes eight, a mysterious figure enters the room. It is Drosselmeyer, a local councilman, magician, and Clara's godfather. He is also a talented toymaker who has brought with him gifts for the children, including four lifelike dolls who dance to the delight of all. He then has them put away for safekeeping.
Clara and Fritz are sad to see the dolls being taken away, but Drosselmeyer has yet another toy for them: a wooden nutcracker carved in the shape of a little man, used for cracking nuts. The other children ignore it, but Clara immediately takes a liking to it. Fritz, however, accidentally breaks it. Clara is heartbroken.
During the night, after everyone else has gone to bed, Clara returns to the parlor to check on her beloved nutcracker. As she reaches the little bed, the clock strikes midnight and she looks up to see Drosselmeyer perched atop it. Suddenly, mice begin to fill the room and the Christmas tree begins to grow to dizzying heights. The nutcracker also grows to life size. Clara finds herself in the midst of a battle between an army of gingerbread soldiers and the mice, led by their king. They begin to eat the soldiers.
The nutcracker appears to lead the soldiers, who are joined by tin ones and dolls who serve as doctors to carry away the wounded. As the Mouse King advances on the still-wounded nutcracker, Clara throws her slipper at him, distracting him long enough for the nutcracker to stab him.
Scene 2: A Pine Forest
The mice retreat and the nutcracker is transformed into a handsome Prince. He leads Clara through the moonlit night to a pine forest in which the snowflakes dance around them, beckoning them on to his kingdom as the first act ends.
Scene 1: The Land of Sweets
Clara and the Prince travel to the beautiful Land of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in his place until his return. He recounts for her how he had been saved from the Mouse King by Clara and had been transformed back into his own self.
In honor of the young heroine, a celebration of sweets from around the world is produced: chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia, tea from China, and candy canes from Russia all dance for their amusement; Danish shepherdesses perform on their flutes; Mother Ginger has her children, the Polichinelles, emerge from under her enormous hoop skirt to dance; a string of beautiful flowers perform a waltz. To conclude the night, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform a dance.
A final waltz is performed by all the sweets, after which the Sugar Plum Fairy ushers Clara and the Prince down from their throne. He bows to her, she kisses Clara goodbye, and leads them to a reindeer drawn sleigh. It takes off as they wave goodbye to all the subjects who wave back.
In the original libretto, the ballet's apotheosis "represents a large beehive with flying bees, closely guarding their riches". Just like Swan Lake, there have been various alternative endings created in productions subsequent to the original.
From the Imperial Ballet's 1892 program
Titles of all of the numbers listed here come from Marius Petipa's original scenario, as well as the original libretto and programs of the first production of 1892. All libretti and programs of works performed on the stages of the Imperial Theatres were titled in French, which was the official language of the Imperial Court, as well as the language from which balletic terminology is derived.
Casse-Noisette. Ballet-féerie in two acts and three tableaux with apotheosis.
List of acts, scenes (tableaux) and musical numbers, along with tempo indications. Numbers are given according to the original Russian and French titles of the first edition score (1892), the piano reduction score by Sergei Taneyev (1892), both published by P. Jurgenson in Moscow, and the Soviet collected edition of the composer's works, as reprinted Melville, New York: Belwin Mills [n.d.]
Tchaikovsky's sources and influences
The Nutcracker is one of the composer's most popular compositions. The music belongs to the Romantic Period and contains some of his most memorable melodies, several of which are frequently used in television and film. (They are often heard in TV commercials shown during the Christmas season.) The Trepak, or Russian dance, is one of the most recognizable pieces in the ballet, along with the famous Waltz of the Flowers and March, as well as the ubiquitous Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The ballet contains surprisingly advanced harmonies and a wealth of melodic invention that is (to many) unsurpassed in ballet music. Nevertheless, the composer's reverence for Rococo and late 18th-century music can be detected in passages such as the Overture, the "Entrée des parents", and "Tempo di Grossvater" in Act I.
Tchaikovsky is said to have argued with a friend who wagered that the composer could not write a melody based on the notes of the scale in an octave in sequence. Tchaikovsky asked if it mattered whether the notes were in ascending or descending order, and was assured it did not. This resulted in the Adagio from the Grand pas de deux, which, in the ballet, nearly always immediately follows the Waltz of the Flowers. A story is also told that Tchaikovsky's sister had died shortly before he began composition of the ballet, and that his sister's death influenced him to compose a melancholy, descending scale melody for the adagio of the Grand Pas de Deux.
One novelty in Tchaikovsky's original score was the use of the celesta, a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He wanted it genuinely for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy to characterize her because of its "heavenly sweet sound". It appears not only in her "Dance", but also in other passages in Act II. (However, he first wrote for the celesta in his symphonic ballad The Voyevoda the previous year.) Tchaikovsky also uses toy instruments during the Christmas party scene. Tchaikovsky was proud of the celesta's effect, and wanted its music performed quickly for the public, before he could be "scooped."
Although the original ballet is only about 85 minutes long if performed without applause or an intermission, and therefore much shorter than either Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, some modern staged performances have omitted or re-ordered some of the music, or inserted selections from elsewhere, thus adding to the confusion over the suites. In fact, most of the very famous versions of the ballet have had the order of the dances slightly re-arranged, if they have not actually altered the music. For instance, the 1954 George Balanchine New York City Ballet version adds to Tchaikovsky's score an entr'acte that the composer wrote for Act II of The Sleeping Beauty, but which is now seldom played in productions of that ballet. It is used as a transition between the departure of the guests and the battle with the mice. Nearly all of the CD and LP recordings of the complete ballet present Tchaikovsky's score exactly as he originally conceived it.
Tchaikovsky was less satisfied with The Nutcracker than with The Sleeping Beauty. (In the film Fantasia, commentator Deems Taylor observes that he "really detested" the score.) Tchaikovsky accepted the commission from Vsevolozhsky but did not particularly want to write the ballet (though he did write to a friend while composing it: "I am daily becoming more and more attuned to my task").
Tchaikovsky: Suite from the ballet The Nutcracker
Tchaikovsky made a selection of eight of the numbers from the ballet before the ballet's December 1892 première, forming The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, intended for concert performance. The suite was first performed, under the composer's direction, on 19 March 1892 at an assembly of the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. The suite became instantly popular, with almost every number encored at its premiere, while the complete ballet did not begin to achieve its great popularity until after the George Balanchine staging became a hit in New York City. The suite became very popular on the concert stage, and was featured in Disney's Fantasia. The Nutcracker Suite should not be mistaken for the complete ballet. The outline below represents the selection and sequence of the Nutcracker Suite culled by the composer.III. Miniature OvertureIII. Danses caractéristiquesa. Marcheb. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy [ending altered from ballet-version]c. Russian Dance (Trepak)d. Arabian Dancee. Chinese Dancef. Reed FlutesIII. Waltz of the Flowers
Grainger: Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky’s Flower Waltz, for solo piano
The Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky’s Flower Waltz is a successful piano arrangement from one of the movements from The Nutcracker by the pianist and composer Percy Grainger.
Pletnev: Concert suite from The Nutcracker, for solo piano
The pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev adapted some of the music into a virtuosic concert suite for piano solo:a. Marchb. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairyc. Tarantellad. Intermezzo (Journey through the Snow)e. Russian Trepakf. Chinese Danceg. Andante maestoso (Pas de Deux)
Many recordings have been made since 1909 of the Nutcracker Suite, which made its initial appearance on disc that year in what is now historically considered the first record album. This recording was conducted by Herman Finck and featured the London Palace Orchestra. But it was not until the LP album was developed that recordings of the complete ballet began to be made. Because of the ballet's approximate hour and a half length when performed without intermission, applause, or interpolated numbers, it fits very comfortably onto two LPs. Most CD recordings take up two discs, often with fillers. An exception is the 81-minute 1998 Philips recording by Valery Gergiev that fits onto one CD because of Gergiev's somewhat brisker speeds.
With the advent of the stereo LP coinciding with the growing popularity of the complete ballet, many other complete recordings of it have been made. Notable conductors who have done so include Maurice Abravanel, André Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Mariss Jansons, Seiji Ozawa, Richard Bonynge, Semyon Bychkov, Alexander Vedernikov, Ondrej Lenard, Mikhail Pletnev, and most recently, Simon Rattle. A CD of excerpts from the Tilson Thomas version had as its album cover art a painting of Mikhail Baryshnikov in his Nutcracker costume; perhaps this was due to the fact that the Tilson Thomas recording was released by CBS Masterworks, and CBS had first telecast the Baryshnikov "Nutcracker".
There have been two major theatrical film versions of the ballet, made within seven years of each other, and both were given soundtrack albums.
Neither Ormandy, Reiner, nor Fiedler ever recorded a complete version of the ballet; however, Kunzel's album of excerpts runs 73 minutes, containing more than two-thirds of the music. Conductor Neeme Järvi has recorded Act II of the ballet complete, along with excerpts from Swan Lake. The music is played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
In popular culture
For a comprehensive list of stage, film and television adaptations of The Nutcracker, see: List of productions of The Nutcracker
Several films having little or nothing to do with the ballet or the original Hoffmann tale have used its music:
There have been several recorded children's adaptations of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story (the basis for the ballet) using Tchaikovsky's music, some quite faithful, some not. One that was not was a version titled The Nutcracker Suite for Children, narrated by Metropolitan Opera announcer Milton Cross, which used a two-piano arrangement of the music. It was released as a 78-RPM album set in the 1940s. For the children's label Peter Pan Records, actor Victor Jory narrated a condensed adaptation of the story with excerpts from the score. It was released on one side of a 45-RPM disc. A later version, titled The Nutcracker Suite, starred Denise Bryer and a full cast, was released in the 1960s on LP and made use of Tchaikovsky's music in the original orchestral arrangements. It was quite faithful to Hoffmann's story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the ballet is based, even to the point of including the section in which Clara cuts her arm on the glass toy cabinet, and also mentioning that she married the Prince at the end. It also included a less gruesome version of "The Tale of the Hard Nut", the tale-within-a-tale in Hoffmann's story. It was released as part of the Tale Spinners for Children series.
Another children's LP, The Nutcracker Suite with Words, featured Captain Kangaroo's Bob Keeshan narrating the story, and sung versions of the different movements, with special lyrics.