Flying and Dying with the White Swan

The swan - majestic, elegant, fragile. © Charles Thibo
The swan – majestic, elegant, fragile. © Charles Thibo

Swan lake – If I were to pick a moment of extraordinary magic while enjoying classical music, it would certainly be Tchaikovsky’s ballet (Op. 20) being performed in Vienna in the Staatsoper. What an experience! What a masterpiece! What a production! Words fail me when I try to describe the intense sensations I had during those three hours.  Perfection all over the place, Kiyoka Hashimoto as Odette/Odile, Denys Cherevychko as Siegfried, the orchestra, the little swans, Luisa Spinatelli’s stage design…

Magic moments in the Staatsoper

The performance I enjoyed in Vienna in 2014 was led by Manuel Legris, since 2010 director of the Wiener Staatsballett, who resuscitated the legendary 1964 interpretation of the dancer Rudolf Nurejev and the choreographers Marius Petipa and Lew Iwanow. Legris was born on October 10, 1964. Nurejevs performance in Vienna came five days later. There is a link, for sure!

Moments that filled me with incredible joy: The Waltz and the Finale in Act 1, the Dances of the Swans in Act 2 and the Moderato (no. 14) at its end, the Pas de Six, the Russian Dance and the Napolitan Dances at the end of Act 3 – I have discussed this melody already in its piano version as part of Tchaikovsky’s “Children Album”. Finally, the Dances of the Little Swans and the Finale of Act 4.

Ballets of incredible beauty

Tchaikovsky wrote this ballet in 1875-76 and the libretto is based mainly on the novel “The Stolen Veil” by the German novelist Johann Musäus, an 18th century collector of folk tales. Before starting this work, Tchaikovsky had studied the great ballet masters of his time like the French composers Leo Delibes and Adolphe Adam. He will outdo himself with his subsequent ballet productions: The Sleeping Beauty (Op. 66) and The Nutcracker (Op. 71).

Recordings of Swan Lake that I can recommend are the one by André Prévin and the London Symphony Orchestra (available on Spotify) and the one by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Wolfgang Swallisch. But here’s a caveat: If you really want to enjoy this ballet, you will have to it for your own. It is performed all over the world and it is worth traveling a bit to see a live performance. For me, going to the prestigious Staatsoper in Vienna is an adventure in itself!

Melodies for children

As afterthought it occurred to me that I introduced my daughter to the world of classical ballet by taking her to the Staatoper on her 7th birthday. She was totally thrilled, emotionally up-beaten and towards the end very, very tired. True, a three-hour performance is a tough challenge for a young child, even if it loves classical music. But whenever we travel long-distance by car, one of the first things she says once we got underway, is: “Can we have Swan Lake, please?” And, when she believes nobody is listening, occasionally I hear her humming some of the melodies. So, if you have children and if you want to introduce them to classical music, get a recording of this fantastic ballet. And buy that plane&ballet ticket for an extended weekend trip to Vienna or wherever “Swan Lake” is performed. It’s worth the price. It’s got princes and princesses, a good king and an evil fairy. It’s got a tragic death and eternal love. And beautiful melodies! Children like that! Laaah lalalalalaa lala lala lalalalalalalaaah…

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.

One thought on “Flying and Dying with the White Swan”

  1. I will introduce my son to classic music, and Swan lake sounds like a good idea 🎶

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