St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre

The Nutcracker

ballet by Pyotr Tchaikovsky


Drosselmeyer: Sergei Umanetc
Masha: Anastasia Kaplina
The Sugar Plum Fairy: Renata Shakirova
The Nutcracker Prince: Denis Klepikov

World Premiere: 6 December 1892, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Premiere in Vladivostok: 19 December 2014

Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
The performance has one interval

Age category 6+


Music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Libretto by Eldar Aliev based on the story by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

Production Choreography: Eldar Aliev
Set Designer: Semyon Pastukh
Costume Designer: Galina Solovieva
Lighting Designer: Eldar Aliev


Christmas is coming, a time for magic. The old storyteller and toy maker Drosselmeyer has thought up a most wonderful and important story for this holiday; a story of good and evil, jealousy and self-sacrifice, love and friendship, and how time and time again everything in the world is reborn.

Act I
Guests are arriving for a Christmas party in the home of the Stahlbaum family. Masha, Herr Stahlbaum’s young daughter, is having fun with the other children. Drosselmeyer arrives at the party and the children instantly surround him. Drosselmeyer tells a story about the beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince who is in love with her that the evil Mouse Queen has separated. Her curse, which has turned the Prince into an ugly Nutcracker, cannot be broken until somebody nobly comes to his aid. Dolls help the old man recount the tale of the Nutcracker. The children thank Drosselmeyer and then run off. Only Masha stays close to the wooden Nutcracker. The old man continues the story for her, but Masha’s brother, the prankster Fritz, gets over excited and breaks the Nutcracker. Masha is distraught. Drosselmeyer soothes her by bandaging the broken arm of the dear Nutcracker.

The guests leave. The door has barely shut behind the last guests when the entire room is inundated by mice. The son of the Mouse Queen has brought his lieges to deal with the Nutcracker. Masha, running into the room, tries to defend her new friend. Drosselmeyer comes to help her and the mice are forced to retreat. Drosselmeyer explains to Masha that she has not simply entered the story but now the story ending depends on her. Meanwhile, the Mouse King has brought his troops into battle. His opponent is the Nutcracker, stands at the head of a troop of tin soldiers. First one side then the other is close to victory. Suddenly the Mouse King has contrived to undo the Nutcracker; he is poised to plunge when Masha rushes to the rescue. She throws a lighted candle at the Mouse King. Immediately the hordes of mice disappear and a handsome Prince appears in place of the ugly Nutcracker. The curse is broken and the Young Prince invites Masha to the Kingdom of the Sweets.

Act II
A magic boat delivers Masha and the Prince to the castle of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Kingdom of the Sweets. All the inhabitants of this land had become frozen when the Mouse Queen’s curse fell on the Prince and the Fairy, but now the curse has been lifted and the castle is once again full of joy and laughter. Masha is greeted by the King, the Queen and their many friends. A Spanish dance is succeeded by an Arabian dance, a Chinese dance by a dazzling Russian dance. The culmination of the festivities is a duet by the Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy dedicated to love and loyalty. Masha dances with the guests, the Fairy and the Prince.

A candle burns on the table of the toy maker. In the living room, curled up in a chair, asleep next to the toy Nutcracker is Masha. The story is over and very soon it will be replaced by another.

The all-time favourite Christmas ballet the Nutcracker has long become the performance which, irrespective of the season, creates an atmosphere of a magic holiday and fairytale-like changes. A wonderful story about a handsome Prince transformed into an ugly doll and a kind girl Masha, who helps the Nutcracker defeat the horrible Mouse King and find happiness, invariably attracts both children and adults.

The music of this ballet has been well-known to everybody since an early age and sometimes it is difficult to imagine how innovative the Nutcracker score was for its time. Tchaikovsky greatly expanded the sphere of character dances: here we can see both a gallery of children’s vivid portraits (no wonder that his ballet is often called “a symphony of childhood”), fantastic images of toys and mice, and the Confiturenburg luxurious sweets parade. There is an enormous gap between the old ballet national “pas” traditions and the suite of tasty drinks that the audience is treated to in the Second Act: thick Spanish scalding chocolate; Arabic coffee the music of which seems to enveil the stage with aromatic steam; delicate as the Chinese ceremony tea.

In the Nutcracker the composer made an exceptionally generous gift to the artists: he personified not only human characters but also some things which makes it possible to engage the whole cast in the performance and to turn it into the triumph of corp-de-ballet. Special mention should be made of the ballet’s ingenious orchestration, for example, for the scene of the war between mice and toy soldiers with the roll of small drums, sounds of toy military fanfares, flickering of mice scurrying about and squeaking. The gem of the Nutcracker’ score is the Sugar Plum Fairy’s crystal-like dance in which Tchaikovsky for the first time in Russian music used a celesta - an instrument with a transparent, “thawing” and a truly mesmerizing timbre which had been invented only a few years earlier. Still, the main secret of the success of the Nutcracker music lies in the fact that just like its plot it possesses the unspoilt freshness and the youthfulness that never fail to fascinate and to be liked. Of all Tchaikovsky’s ballets the Nutcracker has probably had the largest number of interpretations with various emphases. The Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre presents it in the expressive Eldar Aliev’s choreography based on the original scenario by Marius Petipa. This ballet is a real New Year Eve extravaganza with brilliant costumes and scenery, full of bursts of children’s rosy-cheeked laughter and a pine scent of the holiday tree. Nadezhda Koulygina

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