Tchaikovsky at the Royal Opera


This is the time of year when ballet companies large and small begin to perform Tchaikovsky



, his third and last ballet, the creation of which was for a time in doubt. The composer had reservations about the script, which gives us an action-packed Act I ending in a relatively static Act II.

This screenplay was created by Marius Petipa – who had also produced the setting for his previous ballet The Sleeping Beauty – but like Tchaikovsky

Brother Modeste wrote:

Peter Ilitch did not feel on this occasion this desire to compose which The Sleeping Beauty and the scenario of the [opera] Queen of spades awake in him ”.

The choice of subject had been made by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, director of the Russian Imperial Theaters, who tried to reassure the composer that his works were appreciated at the highest level, despite the Queen of spades dropped after only thirteen performances (due to casting and programming issues). But in Tchaikovsky, this raised new doubts:

Get started in composition [of the new opera




], I experience the feeling of a person invited again to a house whose host

his behavior showed the previous time a reluctance to have him as a guest ”.

Despite his lack of enthusiasm, Tchaikovsky (pictured above) did not actually withdraw but requested a postponement to the next season, to which Vsevolozhsky wisely agreed.

Better to wait a year than to ask you to write and compose operas and ballets without any inspiration or pleasure. If the scenographies… have already been ordered, the decor could also be painted for the 1892-183 season. Only, do not completely abandon the task at hand. It is my most fervent supplication towards you ”. Although in a letter of August 9, 1891, the director admitted:

I have bitter remorse for having asked you for this ballet. I know you don’t find him sympathetic. Out of the goodness of the heart and nothing else that you have not refused.

So what’s wrong with


? It is based on a story (“The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”) by ETA Hoffmann, the magical realism of which is difficult to capture in a ballet. Clara (Marie in Hoffmann’s story, where Clara is a doll) is obsessed with the idea that the Mouse King wants to attack the Nutcracker doll that Godfather Drosselmeyer gave her. She does everything to protect him at night when the mice are out, imagining he is her godfather.

s nephew Hans-Peter of Nuremberg. He eventually shows up home at the end, and the Royal Ballet production cleverly ends the entire performance with Drosselmeyer looking at a photo of his nephew at the start and welcoming him with open arms in the final moments.

This ingenious device unifies the two acts, although nothing can really do Hoffmann justice.

s magic, where reality and imagination constantly interact. Music is the main unifier, but directing it is not easy. The Christmas party in Act I leaves quite a bit of freedom of musical expression, but the tempos of Act II should suit the powerful soloists dancing the Sugar Plum fairy and her rider. On the opening night of the Royal Ballet, it was Marianela Nu
ez and Vadim Muntagirov, who delivered a relaxed performance of unparalleled virtuosity under the sensitive baton of Koen Kessels, although it lacked the tension of the party scene in Act I where Kessels had much more leeway to express the music. After the guests have left, and before the battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the music gradually rises to a crescendo, to which Kessels has given a thrilling effect.

Clara’s staging

The imaginary world of Peter Wright is a delight, chaired during the opening night by the superb Drosselmeyer of Gary Avis, magnificent conjurer and surely the best actor-dancer of the moment. As the Nutcracker himself, Joseph Sissens displayed excellent musical precision, with new principal director Anna Rose O

Sullivan in Clara who reveled in the magic that her godfather had worked.

The other Nutcrackers abound in London, with three great professional performances: Matthew Bourne

The version opens at Sadler

s Wells December 7, English National Ballet

s at the London Coliseum on the 16th, while the Royal Ballet

s continues on various dates until January 8. There is no shortage, but everyone should see the one at the Royal Opera House, which looks as good as any other like Hoffmann

is original.