The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker (Russian: Щелкунчик, Castilian: Cascanueces, German: Der Nussknacker), Op. 71, is a fairy-ballet in two acts, three tableaux, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, composed in 1891–1892, and based on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (German: Der Nußknacker und der Mausekönig), a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann (1816). Alexandre Dumas, père's adaptation of the story was set to music by Tchaikovsky (after a libretto possibly written by Marius Petipa and commissioned by the Imperial Theatres' administrator Ivan Vsevolozhsky in 1891).

In Western countries, this ballet has become among the most popular ballets performed, primarily around Christmas time.

A selection of eight of the more popular numbers from the ballet was made by the composer before the ballet's premiere, forming The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, intended for concert performance. The suite became instantly popular; the complete ballet did not achieve its great popularity until around the mid-1960's. Some indication of how much the Nutcracker Suite once eclipsed the fame of the ballet may be found in Deems Taylor's commentary in the road show version of Disney's 1940 Fantasia (film), which features the suite as one of the animated segments in the film. Taylor observes "The ballet isn't performed anymore." That observation is certainly not true today.

The story has been published in many book versions including colorful children's versions. The plot revolves around a German girl named Clara Stahlbaum, or Clara Silverhaus. In some Nutcracker productions, Clara is called Marie. (In Hoffmann's tale, the girl's name actually is Marie or Maria, while Clara - or "Klärchen" - is the name of one of her dolls.)

Act I

The work opens with a brief “Miniature Overture”, which also opens the Suite. The music sets the fairy mood by using upper registers of the orchestra exclusively. The curtain opens to reveal the Stahlbaums' house, where a Christmas Eve party is underway. Clara, her little brother Fritz, and their mother and father are celebrating with friends and family, when the mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, enters. He quickly produces a large bag of gifts for all the children. All are very happy, except for Clara, who has yet to be presented a gift. Herr Drosselmeyer then produces three life-sized dolls, who each take a turn to dance. When the dances are done, Clara approaches Herr Drosselmeyer asking for her gift. It would seem that he is out of presents, and Clara runs to her mother in a fit of tears.

Drosselmeyer then conjures up a toy Nutcracker, in the traditional shape of a soldier in full regalia. Clara is overjoyed, but her brother Fritz is jealous, and breaks the Nutcracker. Drosselmeyer chases him off and mends the toy.

The party ends and the Stahlbaum family goes to bed, but Clara is concerned about her Nutcracker, and comes out to the Christmas tree to see it. She falls asleep under the tree with the Nutcracker in her arms. When the clock strikes midnight, Clara hears the sound of mice. She wakes up and tries to run away, but the mice stop her. Or perhaps Clara is still in a dream: the Christmas tree suddenly begins to grow to enormous size, filling the room. The Nutcracker comes to life, he and his band of soldiers rise to defend Clara, and the Mouse King leads his mice into battle. Here Tchaikovsky continues the miniature effect of the Overture, setting the battle music predominantly in the orchestra’s upper registers.

A conflict ensues, and when Clara helps the Nutcracker by throwing her slipper at the Mouse King, the Nutcracker seizes his opportunity and stabs him. The mouse dies. The mice retreat, taking their dead leader with them. The Nutcracker then is transformed into a prince. (In Hoffmann's original story, and in the Royal Ballet's 1985 and 2001 versions, the Prince is actually Drosselmeyer's nephew, who had been turned into a Nutcracker by the Mouse King, and all the events following the Christmas party have been arranged by Drosselmeyer in order to break the spell.)

Clara and the Prince travel to a world where dancing Snow Flakes greet them and fairies and queens dance. The score conveys the wondrous images by introducing a wordless children’s chorus. The curtain falls on Act I.

Act II

The curtain opens: Clara and the Prince arrive at the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Sugar Plum Fairy and the people of the Land of Sweets dance for Clara and the Prince in the dances of Dew Drop Fairy, the Spanish dancers (sometimes Chocolate), the Chinese dancers (sometimes Tea), the Arabian dancers (sometimes Coffee), the Russian dancers (sometimes Candy Canes), Mother Ginger and her Polichinelles (Court Buffoons in Baryshnikov's production), the Reed Flutes (sometimes Marzipan shepherds or Mirlitions), the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Waltz of the Flowers. The dances in the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy are not always performed in this order.

After the festivities, Clara wakes up under the Christmas tree with the Nutcracker toy in her arms and the curtain closes. (In Balanchine's version, however, she is never shown waking up; instead, after all the dances in the Kingdom of Sweets have concluded, she rides off with the Nutcracker/Prince on a Santa Claus-like flying sleigh, complete with reindeer, and the curtain falls. This gives the impression that the "dream" actually happens in reality, as in Hoffmann's original story. The 1985 Royal Ballet version seems to imply the same thing, since at the end, Drosselmeyer's nephew, who had really been transformed into a nutcracker, reappears in human form at Drosselmeyer's toyshop.)

Tchaikovsky composed the ballet in 1891–1892, but he was unsatisfied with it and considered it to be one of his less successful pieces.

The first performance of the ballet was held as a double premiere together with Tchaikovsky's last opera Iolanta on December 18, 1892, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia. The ballet was conducted by Riccardo Drigo and choreographed by Lev Ivanov. However, this performance had only limited success.

The ballet was first performed outside Russia in 1934, in England. It was not until 1944 that the first complete production in the U.S. took place, performed by the San Francisco Ballet, and choreographed by Willam Christensen. In 1954, George Balanchine choreographed and premiered his New York City Ballet version, which has since been staged there every year, performed on television twice, and made into a feature film in 1993. Its success contributed greatly to making productions of The Nutcracker annual Christmas traditions all over the world - a phenomenon which did not really come to flower until the late 1960's. In Balanchine's version, the roles of Clara (here called Marie) and the Nutcracker are danced by children, and so their dances are choreographed to not be as difficult as the ones performed by the adults.

The popularity of the Balanchine Nutcracker could be said to have been seriously challenged, however, by the highly acclaimed American Ballet Theatre version choreographed by and starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, which premiered in 1976 at Kennedy Center and was re-staged for television in 1977. Baryshnikov omits the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, and gives their dances to Clara and the Prince, so that in his version, the two do not merely sit out most of the entire second act as they do in other productions (notably Balanchine's).

The stage version of this production originally starred Baryshnikov, Marianna Tcherkassky as Clara, and Alexander Minz as Drosselmeyer, but later the role of Clara went to Gelsey Kirkland, who danced it in the television production, and it is Ms. Kirkland, not Ms. Tcherkassky, who has been widely seen in this production of the ballet. Clara is considered one of Gelsey Kirkland's most memorable roles. Except for Ms. Tcherkassky, the rest of the cast of this production also appeared in it on television.

Years later, Alessandra Ferri danced the role of Clara in a revival of Baryshnikov's production.

The Baryshnikov Nutcracker has since become both the most popular television version of the work and the bestselling videocassette and DVD version of the ballet - outselling not only every other video version of The Nutcracker, but every other ballet video as well. It is only one of two versions of the ballet to have been nominated for Emmys - the other was Mark Morris's intentionally exaggerated and satirical take on the ballet, The Hard Nut, telecast on PBS in 1992.

There have been notable Russian television productions of the ballet in recent years, performed by the Bolshoi Ballet and the Kirov Ballet respectively. These have also been released on DVD.

1954, the year in which the Balanchine version of the ballet was first staged, was also the year that the first complete recording appeared (performed by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Antal Dorati, who years later went on to record it twice more with two other orchestras). Two years after the first Dorati recording, Artur Rodzinski made a complete recording of the ballet on stereo master tapes, but because stereo was not possible on the LP format in 1956, only a mono LP set was issued. (Recently, the Rodzinski performance was issued in stereo on CD.)

In 1958, the first stereo LP of the complete ballet, with Ernest Ansermet conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, appeared. And with the advent of the stereo era coinciding with the growing popularity of the complete ballet, many other complete recordings of it have been made over the last thirty years. Notable conductors who have done so include Maurice Abravanel, Andre Previn, Richard Bonynge, Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Slatkin, and Gennadi Rozhdestvensky.

Notable albums of excerpts from the ballet, rather than just the usual Nutcracker Suite, were recorded by Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, neither of these conductors ever recorded a complete version of the ballet.

The music in Tchaikovsky's ballet is some of the composer's most popular. The music belongs to the Romantic Period and contains some of his most memorable melodies which are frequently used in television and film. 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, which can be heard in several commercials during the Christmas season. The ballet contains surprisingly advanced harmonies and a wealth of melodic invention 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.

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. Tchaikovsky also uses toy instruments during the Christmas party scene.

Incidentally, not all realize that the Suite was arranged and performed before the premiere of the Ballet. Tchaikovsky was proud of the Celesta's effect, and wanted its music performed quickly for the public, before he could be "scooped." Everyone was enchanted.

Suites derived from this ballet became very popular on the concert stage. The composer himself extracted a suite of eight pieces from the ballet, but that authoritative move has not prevented later hands from arranging other selections and sequences of numbers. Eventually one of these ended up in Disney's Fantasia. In any case, The Nutcracker Suite should not be mistaken for the complete ballet.

Although the original ballet is only ninety minutes long, and therefore much shorter than 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 example, in The Nutcracker: a Fantasy on Ice, a television adaptation for ice skating from 1983 starring Dorothy Hamill and Robin Cousins, Tchaikovsky's score underwent not only reordering, but also insertion of music from his other ballets and also of music from Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov's Caucasian Sketches.

* A filmed German-American co-production, first telecast in the United States by CBS in 1965, hosted and narrated by Eddie Albert, and choreographed by Kurt Jacob, featured a cast made up from several companies, including Edward Villella, Patricia McBride and Melissa Hayden from the New York City Ballet. Famed German dancer Harald Kreutzberg appeared (in what was probably his last role) in the dual roles of Drosselmeyer and the Snow King (though in one listing, Drosselmeyer in this version has been re-christened Uncle Alex Hoffman - presumably a reference to E.T.A. Hoffmann, who wrote the original tale). This production cut the ballet down to a one-act version lasting slightly less than an hour, and drastically re-ordered all the dances, even to the point of altering the storyline (instead of defeating the Mouse King, who does not even appear in this production, Clara and the Nutcracker must now journey to the Castle of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where the Fairy will wave her wand and turn the Nutcracker back into a Prince) . This version inserted some music from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty Ballet, as two bluebirds were brought in as characters to dance the Bluebird Pas de Deux from that work.

* In Baryshnikov's American Ballet Theatre version, staged in 1976 and first broadcast on TV in 1977, all of the original Tchaikovsky score is used, but the order of most of the dances in Act II (the section of the ballet with the least plot) is changed, and the "Arabian Dance" had to be omitted in the television version in order to bring the program in at ninety minutes with three commercial breaks. Drosselmeyer makes his appearance at the Christmas party earlier, just before the Marche, and the music normally used for his entrance is here used as scoring for the puppet show. Baryshnikov also turned the "Intrada" (slow section) from the "Pas de Deux" into a dance for Clara and the Prince rather than one for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. He made it the emotional climax of the ballet by placing it just before the Final Waltz and Apotheosis, rather than just before the Tarantella - this in a scene that ordinarily has no big emotional moment.

* In the Royal Ballet, London's 1985 version, Tchaikovsky's score is used and the original order of the dances is not changed at all, but the Mother Ginger dance is omitted. This version was re-staged with some of the same dancers taking different roles, as well as with new dancers, in 2001. In the 2001 version, Alina Cojocaru danced the role of Clara, a role danced in 1985 by Julie Rose. Anthony Dowell, who had danced the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier in 1985, danced the role of Drosselmeyer in the 2001 version.

* The 1954 George Balanchine New York City Ballet version, first broadcast on TV in 1957, and filmed with Macaulay Culkin in the title role for movie theatres in 1993, adds to Tchaikovsky's complete score an entr'acte that the composer wrote for Act II of "The Sleeping Beauty". It is used as a transition between the departure of the guests and the battle with the mice. During this transition, Clara's mother appears in the living room and throws a blanket over the girl, who has crept downstairs and fallen asleep on the sofa; then Drosselmeyer appears, repairs the Nutcracker, and binds the jaw with a handkerchief. And the "Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" is moved from near the end of Act II to near the beginning of the second act, just after the Sugar Plum Fairy makes her first appearance.

* Rudolf Nureyev's 1967 version for the Royal Ballet, in which he dances both the roles of Drosselmeyer and the Prince, but not the Nutcracker, changes the order of some of the musical numbers, repeating the music of the "mice attack" and the departure of the guests at the end, and omitting the Final Waltz and Apotheosis which normally conclude the ballet. It was filmed in 1968.

* Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker", staged in 1983 and filmed for movie theatres in 1986, with sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak, adds a duet from Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades which is heard during the Christmas party sequence. Also, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is placed very early in the second act, rather than its traditional place toward the end, and is danced by the dream Clara. This one also omits the Sugar Plum Fairy herself. It should be noted that this version tries to be truer to E. T. A. Hoffmann’s original story, complete with its darker aspects and a second act with more context and flavor, although much of that flavor comes from the imaginations of Sendak and choreographer Kent Stowell, rather than from the actual Hoffmann story.

* And still another ice skating version, 1994's Nutcracker on Ice, starring Oksana Baiul as Clara and Victor Petrenko as Drosselmeyer, was also condensed to slightly less than an hour, radically altering and compressing both the music and the storyline.

However, nearly all of the CD and LP recordings of the complete ballet present Tchaikovsky's score exactly as he originally conceived it.

In 1962 a novelty boogie piano arrangement of the "Marche", entitled "Nut Rocker", was a #1 single in the UK, and #21 in the USA. Credited to B. Bumble and the Stingers, it was produced by Kim Fowley and featured studio musicians Al Hazan (piano), Earl Palmer (drums), Tommy Tedesco (guitar) and Red Callender (bass). "Nut Rocker" has subsequently been covered by many others including The Shadows, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and the Dropkick Murphys. "Nut Rocker" is commonly connected to the NHL team the Boston Bruins. In 2004, The Invincible Czars (from Austin, Texas) arranged, recorded, and now annually perform the entire suite for rock band - guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, trumpet, and violin - reinventing the music with the stylistic, rhythmic, and dynamic twists and turns that mark their original music.

In 1961, the American Broadcasting Company presented a musical special on television entitled The Enchanted Nutcracker. It starred Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence, with child actress Linda Canby as Clara, and featured a script by Sam and Bella Spewack, who had written the libretto for Kiss Me, Kate. Information on this program is currently scant, so it is not clear how much of Tchaikovsky's music was used, but the story was still about a nutcracker who comes to life and takes a little girl to the Kingdom of Sweets. The Nutcracker was portrayed, not by a dancer, but by French actor Pierre Olaf, who also played a new character named Dr. Gombault. Patrick Adiarte, who had played Prince Chulalongkorn in the film version of The King and I (1956 film), also played a Prince in The Enchanted Nutcracker, though clearly, the Nutcracker and the Prince were two entirely different characters in this version. The roles that Goulet and Lawrence played were also created especially for this adaptation. This television production was shown once and then fell into complete obscurity, never even being rerun on ABC-TV.

There have been several animated versions of the original story, but none can really be actually considered an animated version of the ballet itself. All of these invent characters who do not appear either in the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story or the ballet.

* A selection (or "suite") of several popular arrangements from the Nutcracker was used for the 1940 Disney animation film Fantasia. In this film, the music from the nutcracker is accompanied by dancing fairies, mushrooms and fish, amongst others. As mentioned before, this suite should not be mistaken for the entire Nutcracker. The suite used is a slightly altered version of the Nutcracker Suite selected by the composer, as described below in section 5 (The Suite) of this article.

* In 1979, a stop-motion puppet version, entitled Nutcracker Fantasy, was released, using some of the Tchaikovsky music. This version featured the voices of Christopher Lee as Drosselmeyer, and Melissa Gilbert as Clara.

* Care Bears Nutcracker Suite was a 1988 animated television special based extremely loosely on the original ballet. It premiered on the Disney Channel.

* In 1990, another animated version, The Nutcracker Prince, starring the voices of Kiefer Sutherland and Megan Follows, was released. This one also used Tchaikovsky's music, but was actually a straightforward full-length animated cartoon, not a ballet film.

* In 1999, a comedy version entitled The Nuttiest Nutcracker became the first computer-animated film released straight to video. An example of the skewed tone that this version took may be inferred from the fact that Phyllis Diller provided the voice of an obese Sugar Plum Fairy. Some of Tchaikovsky's music was used.

* Barbie in the Nutcracker is a direct-to-video version of the story starring, of course, Barbie the doll, released in 2001. It significantly alters the storyline.

In 1960, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn arranged their own adaptation of the Nutcracker Suite for the Duke Ellington Orchestra featuring the Overture, Toot Toot Tootsie Toot (Dance of the Reed-Flutes), Peanut Brittle Brigade (March), Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy), the Entr'acte, The Volga Vouty (Russian Trepak), Chinoiserie (Chinese Tea), Dance of the Floreadores (Waltz of the Flowers), and Arabesque Cookie (Arabian Coffee). The suite is arranged for the traditional five saxophones (two alto, two tenor, one baritone), four trumpets, a small three trombone section, drums, piano and bass, with second alto doubling on clarinet, bamboo flute, both tenors doubling on clarinet, baritone doubling on bass clarinet, and first trumpet doubling on tambourine. The arrangement has been played by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra side-by-side with the New York Philharmonic performing the respective original movements. In 1999, the arrangement was expanded to fit Donald Byrd's adaptation of The Nutcracker with modern choreography and themes revolving around an African-American family in Harlem, and an aged Clara's experience through the Civil Rights movement. David Berger composed, arranged, performed, and recorded expansions from Ellington and Strayhorn's suite to mesh with the modern ballet.

In 2001, another jazz version appeared on television, this one entitled The Swinging Nutcracker.

Another one, using the Ellington-Strayhorn jazz arrangement of the score, and entitled Nutcracker Sweeties, very recently (2006) appeared on cable television, and is available on DVD. It sets the ballet in the United States during the 1940's, and all of the dances, except for the last two, which he actually sees, are visualized by a World War II soldier on leave roaming the streets of New York in a rented car and listening to the jazz arrangement, which is being broadcast over the radio. The choreography is by David Bintley, and the work is performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

In Red Deer, Alberta, Canada- College drama students perform a play entitled "The Jazzcracker". "The Jazzcracker" is a new musical that is inspired by the classical Christmas tale "The Nutcracker". It is a completely new story (book by Ron Schuster and Darold Roles) with all new music written by Canada’s own Jazz legend Tommy Banks. "The Jazzcracker" is a modern story that takes place in a single parent family. Clare, and her brother Richie have a hard time accepting their mom's new boyfriend. Magic is afoot! In Clare's dreams the Christmas tree and her computer screen grow and grow! Rather than the Nutcracker prince coming to life, the lead singer of a fictitious hip-hop group the Bandage Boys emerges. The Bandage Boys take her on a journey into the computer, where they meet up with an assortment of kooky characters. Thrills and excitement lead her to the realization to "accept others for who they are".

(Numbers given according to the piano score from the Soviet collected edition of the composer's works, as reprinted Melville, NY: Belwin Mills [n.d.], in English where possible, with explanations added here in square brackets).

Most schools, when doing the Nutcracker as a performance, use the order in this outline:

* I. Act One
o A. Overture
o B. Party Scene
o C. The Christmas Tree
* II. Act Two
o A. Journey through the Snow
o B. Waltz of the Snowflakes
* III. Act Three
o A. Chinese Tea
o B. Candy Flutes
o C. Arabian Coffee
o D. Spanish Chocolate
o E. Russian Trepak
o F. Sugar Plum Fairy

The suite derived and abridged from the ballet became more popular for a time than the ballet itself, partly due to its inclusion in Walt Disney's Fantasia. The outline below represents the selection and sequence of the Nutcracker Suite culled by the composer.

* I. Overture
* II. Danses caractéristiques
o A. Marche
o B. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy [ending altered from ballet-version]
o C. Russian Trepak
o D. Arabian Coffee
o E. Chinese Tea
o F. Reed-Flutes
* III. Waltz of the Flowers

The version of the suite heard in Fantasia, however, omitted the Overture and the March, and the remaining dances were placed in a different order:

* I. Dances caractéristiques
o A. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy
o B. Chinese Tea
o C. Reed-Flutes
o D. Arabian Coffee
o E. Russian Trepak
* II. Waltz of the Flowers

The pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev adapted some of the music into a virtuosic concert suite for piano solo:

* A. March
* B. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy
* C. Tarantella
* D. Intermezzo
* E. Russian Trepak
* F. China Dance
* G. AndantePermission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home