November 01, 2012

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker

The Nutcracker ballet premiered in December 1892 at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg together with the opera Iolanta (or Iolanthe). At that point, no one suspected that Tchaikovsky, who composed the music for both, had less than a year to live. The day of the premiere was a day of fairy-tale endings, with one story about a blind girl whose sight is restored by the power of love and another about a little girl named Marie whose love transforms a toy nutcracker into a handsome prince.

One thing that has not changed since The Nutcracker entered the international ballet repertoire is its popularity (people will always need fairy tales). In other regards, The Nutcracker has undergone remarkable transformations over the course of its 120-year history

The ballet’s basic plot first came into being as a novella by the German writer E.T.A. Hoffman titled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Hoffman’s young heroine is named Marie, but in 1892 she appeared on the stage as Clara, having for some reason been given the name of Marie’s favorite doll in Hoffman’s version. The ballet’s young protagonist eventually became Marie, but when World War I inflamed anti-German sentiment, she evolved into Masha. On the Russian stage she remains Masha to this day. Her brother Fritz, on the other hand, being an unappealing sort, was allowed to retain his German name, at least for a while. When the name Fritz began to be too strongly associated with Fascism, Fritz turned into Misha.

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