Presented by Ford Motor Company
With generous support provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Additional Promotional support provided by Pure Michigan-- "Your Trip Begins"
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin; originally webcast live from Orchestra Hall in Detroit on December 14, 2012.
NOTES ON THE PROGRAM
The Nutcracker, Act Two
PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY B. May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia?D. November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg, Russia
Scored for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and three percussion (playing glockenspiel, tambourine,
castanets, cymbals, triangle, bass drum and snare drum ), two harps, celesta and strings (approximately 40 minutes)
Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker is among the most beloved, popular and frequently performed works for the stage. The story essentially concerns a young girl’s Christmas Eve and her awakening to romantic love. Following the great success of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, the director of the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg commissioned Tchaikovsky to create a double-bill program containing both an opera and a ballet. The opera would be Yolanta (which turned out to be his final opera), and for the ballet, he would once again join forces with the celebrated choreographer Marius Petipa, with whom he had worked closely on Sleeping Beauty. For the new ballet’s story, Petipa chose an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the adaptation having been made by Alexandre Dumas the elder titled The Tale of the Nutcracker. The plot of Hoffmann’s original is quite involved and complex, so it and the Dumas adaptation had to be shortened and greatly simplified, as well as being made much lighter and more uplifting in tone. Among other things, Hoffmann’s tale has a long flashback story-within-a-story called The Tale of the Hard Nut, explaining how and why the Prince was turned into a nutcracker. This was taken out for the ballet.
The premiere of this new production took place in St. Petersburg in December of 1892. As with so many works now deemed masterpieces, the first performances of The Nutcracker were not at all successful, and the staging primarily received strongly negative comments from the critics and the audiences — with the exception of Tsar Alexander III who found the whole production quite delightful. One novelty in the score is Tchaikovsky’s use of the celesta, a then- new keyboard instrument which he had discovered in Paris and which he then smuggled into Russia for use first in his symphonic poem The Voyevode in 1891, and then in The Nutcracker the following year, where he used it to characterize the dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy because of its “heavenly sweet sound.” The lack of success of the original production was due to unfortunate circumstances. Petipa began work on the choreography in August, but soon became very ill, and had to hand the reins over to his chief assistant, the somewhat less-talented Lev Ivanov. As a result of this, who actually was responsible for the finished product is in doubt to this day. Following the first performances the ballet basically disappeared from view for about 50 years. While the original ballet may have been unpopular, the familiar concert suite was an instant success when it was first performed under Tchaikovsky’s baton in March of 1892.
The first complete performance outside Russia took place in England in 1934, but again, it was not a success. The first complete performance in this country was given by the San Francisco ballet in 1944, when it fared somewhat better. The modern popularity of The Nutcracker and its association with the holiday season can be attributed directly to the great ballet master and choreographer George Balanchine, who re-introduced the work to New York audiences in 1954. He essentially revitalized the staging of the ballet and created the familiar version which is so popular to this day.
The story of the second act is as follows. Clara and her Prince travel to the Land of Sweets, which is being ruled by the Sugar-Plum Fairy in the Prince’s absence. In honor of the young heroine, a celebration of sweets from around the world is arranged, including chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia, candy canes from Russia, and tea from China. Enchanting shepherdesses perform on their flutes, Mother Gigogne has her children dance after she lets them emerge from beneath her enormous skirt, and a group of beautiful flowers perform a waltz — the famous Waltz of the Flowers, perhaps the best-known excerpt from the score. A grand pas de deux is performed, and then a final waltz is danced by all of the participants, after which the scene fades from view, and Clara awakens on a sofa in her house to the realization that all of what has just happened was only a dream.
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Live from Orchestra Hall is presented by the Ford Motor Company Fund and made possible by generous support from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with additional promotional support from Pure Michigan. Distributed by Paraclassics.com and ClassicalTV.com. Live from Orchestra Hall is produced in collaboration with Detroit Public Television.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra onstage at Orchestra Hall in Detroit