The Sleeping Beauty (ballet)

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The Sleeping Beauty
Ansanelli and Makhateli.jpg
Alexandra Ansanelli and David Makhateli take their bows during a Royal Ballet production of The Sleeping Beauty on 29 April 2008
Choreographed by Marius Petipa
Composed by Tchaikovsky
Libretto by Marius Petipa
Ivan Vsevolojsky
Based on Charles Perrault's 1697 fairy tale "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood"
Date of premiere 15 January 1890
Place of premiere Mariinsky Theatre
St. Petersburg
Original ballet company Mariinksky Ballet
Characters Princess Aurora
Prince Désiré
Lilac Fairy
Carabosse
King Florestan XXIV
His Queen
Catalabutte
Good Fairies, Courtiers, etc.
Designs by Ivan Vsevolojsky
Setting King Florestan's palace and a woodland glade in the 17th and 18th centuries
Genre Fantasy
Type Classical

The Sleeping Beauty is a ballet in a prologue and three acts. Marius Petipa and Ivan Vsevolojsky wrote the story of the ballet. It was based on Charles Perrault's 1697 fairy tale "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood". Tchaikovsky wrote the music. Marius Petipa designed the dances. The Sleeping Beauty was first presented at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 15 January 1890. Carlotta Brianza danced the Princess and Pavel Gerdt the Prince, with Marie Petipa as the Lilac Fairy and Enrico Cecchetti as Carabosse. It was first presented in Europe in a shortened version by the Ballets Russes in London on 2 November 1921. Catherine Littlefield designed the first complete Sleeping Beauty in the United States, and presented the production on 12 February 1937 at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, with the Philadelphia Ballet.[1]

Background[change | edit source]

About ten years after Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake was presented for the first time, Tchaikovsky was asked to write a ballet for the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. The ballet would be based on Charles Perrault's fairy tale "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood". Tchaikovsky was very happy this story had been chosen. It was set in the age of Louis XIV. He would have the chance to write music in the Baroque style.[2]

Petipa gave Tchaikovsky very special directions about tempi, meter, and other musical matters. He even specified the length of particular pieces in exact numbers of bars. He asked for a Waltz in Act 1, a Mazurka in Act 2, and a Polonaise in Act 3. The ballet is tied together (and its drama and suspense heightened) through the repeated use of the two musical themes representing good and evil, personified by the Lilac Fairy and Carabosse respectively.[2] Petipa's specifications stimulated Tchaikovsky's imagination, rather than hindered it as one might expect.[3]

Tchaikovsky's interest in setting the tale reaches back to 1867. It was then that he wrote a little ballet on the story for the children of his sister Alexandra Davydova. He had done the same for Swan Lake. In November 1888, he had a conference with theater officials and Petipa. A draft of the scenario was drawn up. Petipa provided Tchaikovsky with a detailed analysis of the musical requirements. The composer set to work, and finished the score on 1 September 1889.[4]

Story[change | edit source]

Prologue[change | edit source]

A brief overture contrasts the themes of the malicious Carabosse and the benevolent Lilac Fairy. When the curtain rises, the court assembles for Princess Aurora's christening. The five fairies present their gifts. Carabosse, a fairy overlooked by the master of ceremonies, enters. She curses Aurora. The Princess shall die on her 16th birthday, she says, after pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. The remaining seventh fairy the Lilac Fairy comes forward. She cannot put the curse to rest, but she can soften it. The Princess shall not die, she commands, but sleep one hundred years. At the end of that term, a Prince will awaken her with true love's kiss.

Act 1[change | edit source]

Sixteen years after the christening of Princess Aurora, the court assembles in the palace gardens to celebrate Aurora's birthday. Villagers dance a waltz. Aurora dances an adagio with four noble suitors. Carabosse enters unnoticed and slips Aurora a spindle. The Princess pricks her finger on the spindle. She falls to the ground, sound asleep. The Princess is carried into the palace by the noble suitors. The Lilac Fairy puts the entire court to sleep, then causes a dense forest of trees and thorns to surround the castle.

Act 2[change | edit source]

Tchaikovsky's Ballets
Peter Tschaikowski.jpg

Swan Lake (1877)
The Sleeping Beauty (1890)
The Nutcracker (1892)

Scene 1. The Prince's hunt. A woodland glade with a river in the background. The stage is empty. Hunting horns are heard. Prince Desire, his tutor Galifron, and his friends enter. They have paused in the hunt to take refreshments. Several dances are performed by various ladies of the court. The hunt is resumed. The Prince is tired and wants to remain in the glade alone. A boat of moher of pearl appears on the river. The Lilac Fairy steps from it. She promises to show the Prince his future bride.

Scene 2. Sleeping Beauty's castle. The Sleeping Beauty lies on a canopied bed. The King and Queen sleep in armchairs nearby. The courtiers and pages sleep standing up and leaning upon one another. Dust and cobwebs cover everything. The Lilac Fairy and the Prince enter. He tries to rouse the Princess and the court, but without success. The Lilac Fairy stands aside without interfering. The Prince kisses the Princess. She awakens. The dust and cobwebs disappear. The court awakens. The King grants the marriage of the Prince and Princess.

Act 3[change | edit source]

The Wedding of Prince Désiré and Princess Aurora on the esplanade of King Florestan's palace. The court assembles to celebrate the marriage of Prince Désiré and Princess Aurora. The King and Queen make their entrances with the newlyweds. The festivities begin with a series of divertissements. The Diamond, Gold, Silver, and Sapphire Fairies dance. Several fairy tale characters dance: Puss in Boots and the White Cat; the Bluebird and Princess Florine; Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf; Cinderella and Prince Fortuné; and finally Hop o' My Thumb with his brothers and the ogre. The Prince and Princess dance a pas de deux. Roman, Persian, Indian, American, and Turkish characters dance a Sarabande. The act ends with a tableau vivant representing the Glory of the Fairies. This tableau was changed to represent the Glory of Apollo.

Gallery[change | edit source]

Petipa's Ballets
Petipa Head Shot 2.JPG

Notes[change | edit source]

  1. Balanchine pp. 393-4.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hurley, pp. 167-9
  3. Warrack 1973, p. 222
  4. Warrack 1985, pp. 32-36

References[change | edit source]

  • Balanchine, George. 1975. 101 Stories of the Great Ballets. New York, USA: Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-03398-2
  • Hurley, Thérèse. "Opening the door to a fairy tale world: Tchaikovsky's ballet music" in The Cambridge Companion to Ballet. 2007. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-53986-9.
  • Kirstein, Lincoln. 1970. Four Centuries of Ballet: Fifty Masterworks. New York, USA: Dover. ISBN 0-486-23631-0.
  • Warrack, John. 1973. Tchaikovsky. New York, USA: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Warrack, John. 1979. Tchaikovsky Ballet Music. Seattle, USA: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-95697-6.
  • Warrack, John. 1985. Tchaikovsky's Ballets. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-315314-9.