The Nutcracker, Ballet by P. I. Tchaikovsky
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky did not compose many ballets, but when he did, he touched magic. The Nutcracker is one of those timeless stage works that we have come to associate with the Christmas season, and it is thanks to the Russian composer’s memorable, danceable music that the otherwise dark fairy tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann has become a beloved children’s classic. This season, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma produces The Nutcracker in time for the festive season. Unlike the ballet’s premiere at St Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet in 1892, this performance promises to be a resounding success and a joy to behold.
Tchaikovsky composed The Nutcracker over an extended period of time and with meticulously detailed input from the ballet’s original choreographer Marius Petipa. The two had previously created The Sleeping Beauty, a massive success that prompted another commission from the Imperial Theatres. At the choreographer’s request, the source material was “The Story of a Nutcracker” by Alexandre Dumas, an adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. Petipa exercised tight control over both the book and the score, delivering very specific instructions and ensuring that both the narrative and the music were in line with his choreographic vision.
In spite of this seeming lack of creative freedom, Tchaikovsky composed some of his most famous melodies for The Nutcracker. Many of them stand out with their free flow and harmonic invention. Of course, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy stands out, but audiences at Teatro Costanzi would do well to listen for other hidden gems in the rich and exciting score, too. The Nutcracker’s plot is a delightful Christmas story full of wonders. The Stahlbaum family’s Christmas celebration is enriched by the visit of Drosselmeyer, a gifted toymaker who entertains the children with four lifelike dancing dolls. As the grandfather clock strikes eight, a magical transformation begins that slowly pulls the children into a wondrous world of gingerbread soldiers, voracious mice, and dancing fairies. Will the children solve the mystery before dawn?