THE SLEEPING BEAUTY BALLET
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY BALLET
Enjoy the Sleeping Beauty ballet performances in Bolshoi Theatre, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre and Kremlin Palace
Tchaikovsky was approached by the Director of the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg, Ivan Vsevolozhsky on 25 May 1888 about a possible ballet adaptation on the subject of the story of Undine. It was later decided that Charles Perrault’s La Belle au bois dormant would be the story for which Tchaikovsky would compose the music for the ballet. Tchaikovsky did not hesitate to accept the commission, although he was aware that his only previous ballet, Swan Lake, met with little enthusiasm at that stage of his career. The ballet scenario that Tchaikovsky worked on was based on the Brothers Grimm’s version of Perrault’s work entitled ‘Dornröschen’. In that version, the Princess’s parents (the King and the Queen) survived the 100-year sleep to celebrate the Princess’s wedding to the Prince. However, Vsevolozhsky incorporated Perrault’s other characters from his stories into the ballet, such as Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Bluebird, Bluebeard, Ricky of the Tuft and Tom Thumb. Other French fairy tale characters to be featured are Beauty and the Beast, Pretty Goldilocks and The White Cat. Regardless, Tchaikovsky was happy to inform the Director of the Imperial Theatre that he had great pleasure studying the work and had come away with adequate inspiration to do it justice.
The choreographer was Marius Petipa, ballet master of the Imperial Ballet, who wrote a very detailed list of instructions as to the musical requirements. Tchaikovsky worked quickly on the new work at Frolovskoye; he began initial sketches in the winter of 1888 and began orchestration on the work on 30 May 1889.
- Time: Baroque
- Place: Europe
Prologue (The Christening)
King Florestan XXIV and his Queen have welcomed their first child, Princess Aurora, and declare a grand christening ceremony to honor her. Six fairies are invited to the ceremony to bestow gifts on the child. Each fairy represents a virtue or positive trait, such as beauty, courage, sweetness, musical talent, and mischief (the names of fairies and their gifts vary in productions). The most powerful fairy, the Lilac Fairy, arrives with her entourage, but before she can bestow her gift, the palace grows dark. With a clap of thunder, the evil fairy Carabosse arrives (typically played by a female character dancer or a male dancer in drag, and can be shown as an ugly hag or as a younger woman) with her minions (generally several male dancers depicted as rats, monsters, or insects). Carabosse furiously asks the King and Queen why she had not received an invitation to the christening. The blame falls to Catallabutte, the Master of Ceremonies who was in charge of the guest list. Carabosse gleefully tears his wig off and beats him with her staff, before placing a curse upon the baby princess as revenge: Aurora will indeed grow up to be a beautiful, healthy, delightful young lady, but on her sixteenth birthday she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. The King and Queen are horrified and beg Carabosse for mercy, but she shows none. However, the Lilac Fairy intervenes. Though she does not have enough power to completely undo the curse, she alters it, allowing the spindle to cause a peaceful 100-year sleep for the princess, rather than death. At the end of those 100 years, she will be woken by the kiss of a handsome prince. Relieved that Aurora’s life will ultimately be spared, the court is set at ease.
Act I (The Spell)
It is the day of Princess Aurora’s sixteenth birthday. Celebrations are underway, though the King is still unsettled by Carabosse’s omen. Catallabutte discovers several peasant ladies knitting nearby (a forbidden activity, as it involves spindles potentially harmful to the princess) and alerts the King, who initially sentences the women to a harsh punishment. The Queen gently persuades him to spare the innocent citizens, and he agrees. The townsfolk perform an elaborate waltz with flower garlands, and Princess Aurora arrives afterwards. She is introduced to four suitors by her doting parents. Aurora and the suitors perform the famous Rose Adagio, one of the most notoriously difficult sequences in all of ballet. Presently, a cloaked stranger appears and offers a gift to the princess: a spindle. Having never seen one before, Aurora curiously examines the strange object as her parents desperately try to intervene. As predicted, she pricks her finger on the spindle (in some versions, the “gift” is a nonthreatening bouquet of flowers with the spindle hidden within). While initially appearing to recover quickly, she falls into a swoon and collapses. The cloaked stranger reveals herself to be Carabosse, who believes that her curse still stands and that the princess is dead. Once again, the Lilac Fairy quells the hubbub and reminds the King and Queen that Aurora is merely asleep. The princess is carried off to bed, and the Lilac Fairy casts a spell of slumber over the entire kingdom, which will only be broken when Aurora awakens. She then uses her magic to cover the castle in layers of vines and brambles.
Act II (The Vision)
One hundred years later, Prince Désiré is at a hunting party with his companions. He is in a mopey mood, unhappy with his bossy countess girlfriend. His friends try to cheer him up with a game of blind man’s bluff and a series of dances. Still unhappy, he asks for some time to himself, and the hunting party departs. Alone in the forest, he is met by the Lilac Fairy, who has chosen him to awaken Aurora. She shows him a vision of the beautiful princess, and the prince is immediately smitten. The Lilac Fairy explains the situation, and Désiré begs to be taken to the princess. The Lilac Fairy takes him by boat to the castle and guides through the deep forest until at last, they reach the hidden castle. Carabosse makes one last attempt to cement her vengeful curse, but the Lilac Fairy and the prince manage to defeat her together at last. Once inside the castle, Désiré awakens Aurora with a kiss. The rest of the court wakes as well, and the King and Queen heartily approve when the prince proposes marriage and the princess accepts.
Act III (The Wedding)
The royal wedding is underway. Guests include the Jewel Fairies: Diamond, Gold, Silver and Sapphire, and of course the Lilac Fairy. Fairytale characters are in attendance, including Puss in Boots and The White Cat, Princess Florine and the Bluebird, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Cinderella and Prince Charming, Beauty and the Beast, and others. Aurora and Désiré perform a grand Pas de Deux, and the entire ensemble dances a mazurka. The prince and princess are married, with the Lilac Fairy blessing the union. The ballet ends with a grand apotheosis (apothéose) where all the characters come together with a tableau depicting the Sun God, Helios and King Louis XIV.
Tchaikovksy’s score lasts 3 hours so it is usually cut for the ballet. There are two main leitmotifs, one for Carabosse (the angry sounding first part of the overture) and other for the Lilac Fairy (the calming second part) and both often develop from one another. This review of ABT’s Sleeping Beauty by NY Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay contains some great insights into the musical themes set in the score.
An essential Sleeping Beauty playlist for your ipod should include the below tracks, which are listed as in the original 1890 version. Note that track names may vary depending on CD editions:
Prologue: Overture/Intro (No. 1)
Prologue: Variation La Fée des Lilas–voluptueuse (From the Pas de Six) (No. 3, Variation VI)
Act I Grande Valse Villageoise (The Garland Waltz, No. 6)
Act I Pas d’action: Grand adage à la rose (Rose Adagio No.8)
Act I Scène et Finale (No. 9)
Act II Scène de la chasse royale (No. 10)
Act II Panorama (No. 17)
Act II Scène du Chateau de sommeil (N0. 19)
Act II Scène et Finale. Le réveil d’Aurore (No. 20)
Act III Marche (No. 21)
Act III Polonaise Dansée (No. 22)
Act III Pas de caractère Le Chat Botté et la Chatte Blanche (No. 24)
Act III Pas de deux de l’Oiseau Bleu et la Princesse Florine (No. 25)
Act III Variation de la Princesse Florine (No. 25)
Act III Variation de l’Oiseau Bleu (No. 25)
Act III Pas De Deux. Aurore et Désiré (No. 28)
Act III Coda Générale (No. 30)
Act III Apothéose (No. 30)