Swan Lake (Russian: Лебеди́ное о́зеро, romanized: Lebedínoye ózero About this soundlisten ), Op. 20, is a ballet composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875–76. Despite its initial failure, it is now one of the most popular ballets of all time.

The scenario, initially in two acts, was fashioned from Russian and German folk tales[a] and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer's curse. The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger (Václav Reisinger). The ballet was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet on 4 March [O.S. 20 February] 1877[1][2] at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Although it is presented in many different versions, most ballet companies base their stagings both choreographically and musically on the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, first staged for the Imperial Ballet on 15 January 1895, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. For this revival, Tchaikovsky's score was revised by the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre's chief conductor and composer Riccardo Drigo.[3]

History

Design by F. Gaanen for the décor of act 2, Moscow 1877

Origins of the ballet

There is no evidence to prove who wrote the original libretto, or where the idea for the plot came from. Russian and German folk tales have been proposed as possible sources, including "The White Duck" and "The Stolen Veil" by Johann Karl August Musäus, but both those tales differ significantly from the ballet.[4]

One theory is that the original choreographer, Julius Reisinger, who was a Bohemian (and therefore likely to be familiar with The Stolen Veil), created the story. Another theory is that it was written by Vladimir Petrovich Begichev, director of the Moscow Imperial Theatres at the time, possibly with Vasily Geltser, danseur of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (a surviving copy of the libretto bears his name). Since the first published libretto does not correspond with Tchaikovsky's music in many places, one theory is that the first published version was written by a journalist after viewing initial rehearsals (new opera and ballet productions were always reported in the newspapers, along with their respective scenarios).

Some contemporaries of Tchaikovsky recalled the composer taking great interest in the life story of Bavarian King Ludwig II, whose life had supposedly been marked by the sign of Swan and could have been the prototype of the dreamer Prince Siegfried.[5]

Begichev commissioned the score of Swan Lake from Tchaikovsky in May 1875 for 800 rubles. Tchaikovsky worked with only a basic outline from Julius Reisinger of the requirements for each dance.[6] However, unlike the instructions for the scores of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, no written instruction is known to have survived.

Tchaikovsky's influences

From around the time of the turn of the 19th century until the beginning of the 1890s, scores for ballets were almost always written by composers known as "specialists," who were highly skilled at scoring the light, decorative, melodious, and rhythmically clear music that was at that time in vogue for ballet. Tchaikovsky studied the music of "specialists" such as the Italian Cesare Pugni and the Austrian Ludwig Minkus, before setting to work on Swan Lake.

Tchaikovsky had a rather negative opinion of the "specialist" ballet music until he studied it in detail, being impressed by the nearly limitless variety of infectious melodies their scores contained. Tchaikovsky most admired the ballet music of such composers as Léo Delibes, Adolphe Adam, and later, Riccardo Drigo. He would later write to his protégé, the composer Sergei Taneyev, "I listened to the Delibes ballet Sylvia ... what charm, what elegance, what wealth of melody, rhythm, and harmony. I was ashamed, for if I had known of this music then, I would not have written Swan Lake." Tchaikovsky most admired Adam's 1844 score for Giselle, which used the Leitmotif technique: associating certain themes with certain characters or moods, a technique he would use in Swan Lake, and later, The Sleeping Beauty.

Tchaikovsky drew on previous compositions for his Swan Lake score. According to two of Tchaikovsky's relatives – his nephew Yuri Lvovich Davydov and his niece Anna Meck-Davydova – the composer had earlier created a little ballet called The Lake of the Swans at their home in 1871. This ballet included the famous Leitmotif, the Swan's Theme or Song of the Swans. He also made use of material from The Voyevoda, an opera he had abandoned in 1868. The Grand adage (a.k.a. the Love Duet) from the second scene of Swan Lake was fashioned from an aria from that opera, as was the Valse des fiancées from the third scene. Another number which included a theme from The Voyevoda was the Entr'acte of the fourth scene.

By April 1876 the score was complete, and rehearsals began. Soon Reisinger began setting certain numbers aside that he dubbed "undanceable." Reisinger even began choreographing dances to other composers' music, but Tchaikovsky protested and his pieces were reinstated. Although the two artists were required to collaborate, each seemed to prefer working as independently of the other as possible.[7]

Composition process

Tchaikovsky's excitement with Swan Lake is evident from the speed with which he composed: commissioned in the spring of 1875, the piece was created within one year. His letters to Sergei Taneyev from August 1875 indicate, however, that it was not only his excitement that compelled him to create it so quickly but his wish to finish it as soon as possible, so as to allow him to start on an opera. Respectively, he created scores of the first three numbers of the ballet, then the orchestration in the fall and winter, and was still struggling with the instrumentation in the spring. By April 1876, the work was complete. Tchaikovsky's mention of a draft suggests the presence of some sort of abstract but no such draft has ever been seen. Tchaikovsky wrote various letters to friends expressing his longstanding desire to work with this type of music, and his excitement concerning his current stimulating, albeit laborious task.[8]

Performance history

Adelaide Giuri as Odette and Mikhail Mordkin as Prince Siegfried in Aleksandr Gorsky's staging of the Petipa/Ivanov Swan Lake for the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, 1901. A young Vera Karalli is seen kneeling.

Moscow première (world première)

  • Date: 4 March (OS 20 February) 1877
  • Place: Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
  • Balletmaster: Julius Reisinger
  • Conductor: Stepan Ryabov
  • Scene Designers: Karl Valts (acts 2 & 4), Ivan Shangin (act 1), Karl Groppius (act 3)

St. Petersburg première

Other notable productions

Original interpreters

Role Moscow 1877 Moscow 1880 St. Petersburg 1895[9] Moscow 1901 London 1911
Queen Olga Nikolayeva Giuseppina Cecchetti
Siegfried Victor Gillert Alfred Bekefi Pavel Gerdt Mikhail Mordkin Vaslav Nijinsky
Benno Sergey Nikitin Aleksandr Oblakov
Wolfgang Wilhelm Wanner Gillert
Odette Pelageya Karpakova Yevdokiya Kalmїkova Pierina Legnani Adelaide Giuri Mathilde Kschessinska
Von Rothbart Sergey Sokolov Aleksey Bulgakov K. Kubakin
Odile Pelageya Karpakova Pierina Legnani Mathilde Kschessinska

Original production of 1877

The première on Friday, 4 March 1877, was given as a benefit performance for the ballerina Pelageya Karpakova (also known as Polina Karpakova), who performed the role of Odette, with première danseur Victor Gillert as Prince Siegfried. Karpakova may also have danced the part Odile, although it is believed the ballet originally called for two different dancers. It is now common practice for the same ballerina to dance both Odette and Odile.

The Russian ballerina Anna Sobeshchanskaya was originally cast as Odette, but was replaced when a governing official in Moscow complained about her, claiming she had accepted jewelry from him, only to then marry a fellow danseur and sell the pieces for cash.

The première was not well received. Though there were a few critics who recognised the virtues of the score, most considered it to be far too complicated for ballet. It was labelled "too noisy, too 'Wagnerian' and too symphonic."[10] The critics also thought Reisinger's choreography was "unimaginative and altogether unmemorable."[10] The German origins of the story were "treated with suspicion while the tale itself was regarded as 'stupid' with unpronounceable surnames for its characters."[10] Karpakova was a secondary soloist and "not particularly convincing."[10]

The poverty of the production, meaning the décor and costumes, the absence of outstanding performers, the Balletmaster's weakness of imagination, and, finally, the orchestra ... all of this together permitted (Tchaikovsky) with good reason to cast the blame for the failure on others.

— 
Anna Sobeshchanskaya [ru] as Odette in Julius Reisinger's original production of Swan Lake, Moscow, 1877

On 26 April 1877, Anna Sobeshchanskaya made her début as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, and from the start, she was completely dissatisfied with the ballet. Sobeshchanskaya asked Marius PetipaPremier Maître de Ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres—to choreograph a pas de deux to replace the pas de six in the third act (for a ballerina to request a supplemental pas or variation was standard practice in 19th-century ballet, and often these "custom-made" dances were the legal property of the ballerina they were composed for).

Petipa created the pas de deux to music by Ludwig Minkus, ballet composer to the St Petersburg Imperial Theatres. The piece was a standard pas de deux classique consisting of a short entrée, the grand adage, a variation for each dancer individually, and a coda.

Tchaikovsky was angered by this change, stating that whether the ballet was good or bad, he alone should be held responsible for its music. He agreed to compose a new pas de deux, but soon a problem arose: Sobeshchanskaya wanted to retain Petipa's choreography. Tchaikovsky agreed to compose a pas de deux that would match to such a degree, the ballerina would not even be required to rehearse. Sobeshchanskaya was so pleased with Tchaikovsky's new music, she requested he compose an additional variation, which he did.

Until 1953 this pas de deux was thought to be lost, until a repétiteur score was accidentally found in the archives of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre, among orchestral parts for Alexander Gorsky's revival of Le Corsaire (Gorsky had included the piece in his version of Le Corsaire staged in 1912). In 1960 George Balanchine choreographed a pas de deux to this music for Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow, performed at the City Center of Music and Drama in New York City as Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux,[12] as it is still known and performed today.

Subsequent productions 1879–1894

Julius Reisinger's successor as balletmaster was Joseph Peter Hansen. Hansen made considerable efforts to salvage Swan Lake and on 13 January 1880 he presented a new production of the ballet for his own benefit performance. The part of Odette/Odile was danced by Evdokia Kalmykova, a student of the Moscow Imperial Ballet School, with Alfred Bekefi as Prince Siegfried. This production was better-received than the original, but by no means a great success. Hansen presented another version of Swan Lake on 28 October 1882, again with Kalmykova as Odette/Odile. For this production Hansen arranged a Grand Pas for the ballroom scene which he titled La Cosmopolitana. This was taken from the European section of the Grand Pas d'action known as The Allegory of the Continents from Marius Petipa's 1875 ballet The Bandits to the music of Ludwig Minkus. Hansen's version of Swan Lake was given only four times, the final performance being on 2 January 1883, and soon the ballet was dropped from the repertory altogether.

In all, Swan Lake was performed 41 times between its première and the final performance of 1883 – a rather lengthy run for a ballet that was so poorly received upon its première. Hansen became Balletmaster to the Alhambra Theatre in London and on 1 December 1884 he presented a one-act ballet titled The Swans, which was inspired by the second scene of Swan Lake. The music was composed by the Alhambra Theatre's chef d'orchestre Georges Jacoby.

The second scene of Swan Lake was then presented on 21 February in Prague by the Ballet of the National Theatre in a version mounted by the Balletmaster August Berger. The ballet was given during two concerts which were conducted by Tchaikovsky. The composer noted in his diary that he experienced "a moment of absolute happiness" when the ballet was performed. Berger's production followed the 1877 libretto, though the names of Prince Siegfried and Benno were changed to Jaroslav and Zdeňek, with the rôle of Benno danced by a female dancer en travestie. The rôle of Prince Siegfried was danced by Berger himself with the ballerina Giulietta Paltriniera-Bergrova as Odette. Berger's production was only given eight performances and was even planned for production at the Fantasia Garden in Moscow in 1893, but it never materialised.

Petipa–Ivanov–Drigo revival of 1895

Pierina Legnani as Odette (1895)

During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Petipa and Vsevolozhsky discussed with Tchaikovsky the possibility of reviving Swan Lake. However, Tchaikovsky died on 6 November 1893, just when plans to revive Swan Lake were beginning to come to fruition. It remains uncertain whether Tchaikovsky was prepared to revise the music for this revival. Whatever the case, as a result of Tchaikovsky's death, Drigo was forced to revise the score himself, after receiving approval from Tchaikovsky's younger brother, Modest. There are major differences between Drigo's and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake score. Today, it is Riccardo Drigo's revision of Tchaikovsky's score, and not Tchaikovsky's original score of 1877, that most ballet companies use.

Pavel Gerdt as Prince Siegfried (Mariinsky Theatre, 1895)

In February 1894, two memorial concerts planned by Vsevolozhsky were given in honor of Tchaikovsky. The production included the second act of Swan Lake, choreographed by Lev Ivanov, Second Balletmaster to the Imperial Ballet. Ivanov's choreography for the memorial concert was unanimously hailed as wonderful.

The revival of Swan Lake was planned for Pierina Legnani's benefit performance in the 1894–1895 season. The death of Tsar Alexander III on 1 November 1894 and the ensuing period of official mourning brought all ballet performances and rehearsals to a close for some time, and as a result all efforts could be concentrated on the pre-production of the full revival of Swan Lake. Ivanov and Petipa collaborated on the production, with Ivanov retaining his dances for the second act while choreographing the fourth, with Petipa staging the first and third acts.

Modest Tchaikovsky was called upon to make changes to the ballet's libretto, including the character of Odette changing from a fairy swan-maiden into a cursed mortal woman, the ballet's villain changing from Odette's stepmother to the magician von Rothbart, and the ballet's finale: instead of the lovers simply drowning at the hand of Odette's stepmother as in the original 1877 scenario, Odette commits suicide by drowning herself, with Prince Siegfried choosing to die as well, rather than live without her, and soon the lovers' spirits are reunited in an apotheosis.[13] Aside from the revision of the libretto the ballet was changed from four acts to three—with act 2 becoming act 1, scene 2.

All was ready by the beginning of 1895 and the ballet had its première on Friday, 27 January. Pierina Legnani danced Odette/Odile, with Pavel Gerdt as Prince Siegfried, Alexei Bulgakov as Rothbart, and Alexander Oblakov as Benno. Most of the reviews in the St. Petersburg newspapers were positive.

Unlike the première of The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake did not dominate the repertory of the Mariinsky Theatre in its first season. It was given only sixteen performances between the première and the 1895–1896 season, and was not performed at all in 1897. Even more surprising, the ballet was performed only four times in 1898 and 1899. The ballet belonged solely to Legnani until she left St. Petersburg for her native Italy in 1901. After her departure, the ballet was taken over by Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who was as much celebrated in the rôle as was her Italian predecessor.

Later productions

A 2008 production at the Royal Swedish Opera

Throughout the performance history of Swan Lake, the 1895 edition has served as the version on which most stagings have been based. Nearly every balletmaster or choreographer who has re-staged Swan Lake has made modifications to the ballet's scenario, while still maintaining much of the traditional choreography for the dances, which is regarded as virtually sacrosanct. Likewise, over time the rôle of Siegfried has become more prominent, due largely to the evolution of ballet technique.

In 1940, San Francisco Ballet became the first American company to stage a complete production of Swan Lake. The enormously successful production starred Lew Christensen as Prince Siegfried, Jacqueline Martin as Odette, and Janet Reed as Odile. Willam Christensen based his choreography on the Petipa–Ivanov production, turning to San Francisco's large population of Russian émigrés, headed by Princess and Prince Vasili Alexandrovich of Russia, to help him ensure that the production succeeded in its goal of preserving Russian culture in San Francisco.[14]

Several notable productions have diverged from the original and its 1895 revival:

  • In 1967, Eric Bruhn produced and danced in a new "Swan Lake" for the National Ballet of Canada, with striking largely black and white designs by Desmond Healey. Although substantial portions of the Petipa-Ivanov choreography were retained, Bruhn's alterations were musical as well as choreographic. Most controversially, he recast Von Rothbart as the malevolent "Black Queen", adding psychological emphasis to the Prince's difficult relationships with women, his domineering mother included.
  • Illusions Like "Swan Lake" 1976: John Neumeier Hamburg Ballet, Neumeier interpolated the story of Ludwig II of Bavaria into the Swan Lake plot, via Ludwig's fascination with swans. Much of the original score was used with additional Tchaikovsky material and the choreography combined the familiar Petipa/Ivanov material with new dances and scenes by Neumeier. The ballet finishes with Ludwig's death by drowning while confined to an asylum, set to the dramatic music for the act 3 conclusion. With the theme of the unhappy royal being forced into heterosexual marriage for reasons of state and also the cross reference to the personal lives of actual royalty, this work anticipated both Bourne's and Murphy's interpretation. Illusions Like "Swan Lake" remains in the repertoire of major German ballet companies.
  • Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake departed from the traditional ballet by replacing the female corps de ballet with male dancers and a plot focussed on the psychological pressures of modern royalty on a prince struggling with his sexuality and a distant mother. It has been performed on extended tours in Greece, Israel, Turkey, Australia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, and Ireland in addition to the United Kingdom, and has won over 30 international awards to date.[15]
  • The 2000 American Ballet Theatre version (taped for television in 2005), rather than having the curtain down as the slow introduction is played, used this music to accompany a new prologue in which the audience is shown how Rothbart first transforms Odette into a swan. This prologue is similar to Vladimir Burmeister's production of "Swan Lake" (firstly staged in Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow, 1953) but has some differences. Rothbart in this production is played by two dancers; one appears as a handsome young man who is easily able to lure Odette in the new prologue, and the other dancer is covered in sinister "monster makeup" which reveals the magician's true self. (in the film Black Swan, Natalie Portman, as Nina, dreams this in the film's opening sequence). About half-an-hour of the complete score is omitted from this production.[citation needed]
  • Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake was first performed in 2002, and was loosely based on the breakdown of the marriage of Lady Diana to Prince Charles and his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. It combined the rôles of Rothbart and Odile into that of a Baroness, and the focus of the story is a love triangle.[16]
  • In 2010, Black Swan, a film starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, contained sequences from Swan Lake.[17]
  • In 2010, South African choreographer and ballet dancer Dada Masilo, remade Tchaikovsky's classic.[18] Her version was a mix of classic ballet and African dance. She also made a plot twist by presenting Odile (the black swan) as a gay male swan rather than a female swan.[19][20]
  • A Swan Lake, choreographed by

    Swan Lake is scored for the typical late 19th-century large orchestra:

    • Strings: violins I and II; violas, violoncellos; double basses, harp
    • Woodwinds: piccolo; 2 flutes; 2 oboes; 2 clarinets in B, A and C; 2 bassoons
    • Brass: 4 French horns in F; 2 cornets in A and B; 2 trumpets in F, D, and E; 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass); tuba
      • Princess Odette (the Swan Queen and the White Swan or also the Swan Princess), a beautiful Princess, who has been transformed into a white swan.
      • Prince Siegfried, a handsome Prince who falls in love with Odette
      • Baron Von Rothbart, an evil sorcerer, who has enchanted Odette
      • Odile (the Black Swan), Rothbart's daughter
      • Benno von Sommerstern, the Prince's friend
      • The Queen, Prince Siegfried's mother
      • Wolfgang, his tutor
      • Baron von Stein
      • The Baroness, his wife
      • Freiherr von Schwarzfels
      • His wife
      • A herald
      • A footman
      • Court gentlemen and ladies, friends of the prince, heralds, guests, pages, villagers, servants, swans, cygnets

      Variations to characters

      By 1895, Benno von Sommerstern had become just "Benno," and Odette "Queen of the Swans." Also Baron von Stein, his wife, and Freiherr von Schwarzfels and his wife were no longer identified on the program. The sovereign or ruling Princess is often rendered "Queen Mother."

      The character of Rothbart (sometimes spelled Rotbart) has been open to many interpretations. The reason for his curse upon Odette is unknown; several versions, including two feature films, have suggested reasons, but none is typically explained by the ballet. He is rarely portrayed in human form, except in act 3. He is usually shown as an owl-like creature. In most productions, the couple's sacrifice results in his destruction. However, there are versions in which he is triumphant. Yury Grigorovich's version, which has been danced for several decades by the Bolshoi Ballet, is noted for including both endings: Rothbart was defeated in the original 1969 version, in line with Soviet-era expectations of an upbeat conclusion,[23] but in the 2001 revision, Rothbart plays a wicked game of fate with Siegfried, which he wins at the end, causing Siegfried to lose everything. In the second American Ballet Theatre production of Swan Lake, he is portrayed by two dancers: a young, handsome one who lures Odette to her doom in the prologue, and a reptilian creature. In this version, the lovers' suicide inspires the rest of Rothbart's imprisoned swans to turn on him and overcome his spell.

      Odile, Rothbart's daughter usually wears jet black (though in the 1895 production, she did not), and appears only in act 3. In most modern productions, she is portrayed as Odette's exact double (though the resemblance is because of Rothbart's magic), and therefore Siegfried cannot be blamed for believing her to be Odette. There is a suggestion that in the original production, Odette and Odile were danced by two different ballerinas. This is also the case in some avant garde productions.

      Synopsis

      Swan Lake is generally presented in either four acts, four scenes (primarily outside Russia and Eastern Europe) or three acts, four scenes (primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe). The biggest difference of productions all over the world is that the ending, originally tragic, is now sometimes altered to a happy ending.

      Prologue

      Some productions include a prologue that shows how Odette first meets Rothbart, who turns Odette into a swan.

      Act 1

      A magnificent park before a palace

      [Scène: Allegro giusto] Prince Siegfried is celebrating his birthday with his tutor, friends and peasants [Waltz]. The revelries are interrupted by Siegfried's mother, the Queen [Scène: Allegro moderato], who is concerned about her son's carefree lifestyle. She tells him that he must choose a bride at the royal ball the following evening (some productions include the presentation of some possible candidates). Siegfried is upset that he cannot marry for love. His friend Benno and the tutor try to lift his troubled mood. As evening falls [Sujet], Benno sees a flock of swans flying overhead and suggests they go on a hunt [Finale I]. Siegfried and his friends take their crossbows and set off in pursuit of the swans.

      Act 2

      A lakeside clearing in a forest by the ruins of a chapel. A moonlit night.

      The "Valse des cygnes" from act 2 of the Ivanov/Petipa edition of Swan Lake

      Siegfried has become separated from his friends. He arrives at the lakeside clearing, just as a flock of swans land [Scène. Moderato]. He aims his crossbow [Scène. Allegro moderato], but freezes when one of them transforms into a beautiful maiden, Odette [Scène. Moderato]. At first, she is terrified of Siegfried. When he promises not to harm her, she explains that she and her companions are victims of a spell cast by the evil owl-like sorcerer Rothbart. By day they are turned into swans and only at night, by the side of the enchanted lake – created from the tears of Odette's mother – do they return to human form. The spell can only be broken if one who has never loved before swears to love Odette forever. Rothbart suddenly appears [Scène. Allegro vivo]. Siegfried threatens to kill him but Odette intercedes – if Rothbart dies before the spell is broken, it can never be undone.

      As Rothbart disappears, the swan maidens fill the clearing [Scène: Allegro, Moderato assai quasi andante]. Siegfried breaks his crossbow, and sets about winning Odette's trust as the two fall in love. But as dawn arrives, the evil spell draws Odette and her companions back to the lake and they are turned into swans again.

      Act 3

      An opulent hall in the palace

      Guests arrive at the palace for a costume ball. Six princesses are presented to the prince [Entrance of the Guests and Waltz], as candidates for marriage. Rothbart arrives in disguise [Scène: Allegro, Allegro giusto] with his daughter, Odile, who is transformed to look like Odette. Though the princesses try to attract the prince with their dances [Pas de six], Siegfried has eyes only for Odile. [Scène: Allegro, Tempo di valse, Allegro vivo] Odette appears at the castle window and attempts to warn Siegfried, but he does not see her. He then proclaims to the court that he will marry Odile before Rothbart shows him a magical vision of Odette. Grief-stricken and realizing his mistake (he vowed only to love Odette), Siegfried hurries back to the lake.

      Act 4

      By the lakeside

      Scene from act 4; Vienna State Opera, 2004

      Odette is distraught. The swan-maidens try to comfort her. Siegfried returns to the lake and makes a passionate apology. She forgives him, but his betrayal cannot be undone. Rather than remain a swan forever, Odette chooses to die. Siegfried chooses to die with her and they leap into the lake, where they will stay together forever. This breaks Rothbart's spell over the swan maidens, causing him to lose his power over them and he dies. In an apotheosis, the swan maidens, who transform to regular maidens, watch as Siegfried and Odette ascend into the Heavens together, forever united in love.

      1877 libretto synopsis

      Act 1: Prince Siegfried, his friends, and a group of peasants are celebrating the Prince's coming of age. Siegfried's mother arrives to inform him she wishes for him to marry soon so she may make sure he does not disgrace their family line by his marriage. She has organised a ball where Siegfried is to choose his bride from among the daughters of the nobility. After the celebration, Siegfried and his friend, Benno, spot a flock of flying swans and decide to hunt them.

      Act 2: Siegfried and Benno track the swans to a lake, but they vanish. A woman wearing a crown appears and meets the two men. She tells them her name is Odette and she was one of the swans they were hunting. She tells them her story: Odette's mother, a good fairy, had married a knight, but she died and the knight remarried. Odette's stepmother was a witch who wanted to kill her, but her grandfather saved her. Odette's grandfather had cried so much over the death of Odette's mother, he created the lake with his tears. Odette and her companions live in the lake with Odette's grandfather, and can transform themselves into swans whenever they wish. Odette's stepmother still wants to kill her and stalks her in the form of an owl, but Odette has a crown which protects her from harm. When Odette gets married, the witch will lose the power to harm her. Siegfried falls in love with Odette but Odette fears the witch will ruin their happiness.

      Act 3: Several young noblewomen dance at Siegfried's ball, but the Prince refuses to marry any of them. Baron von Rothbart and his daughter, Odile, arrive. Siegfried thinks Odile looks like Odette, but Benno doesn't agree. Siegfried dances with Odile as he grows more and more enamored with her, and eventually agrees to marry her. At that moment, Rothbart transforms into a demon, Odile laughs, and a white swan wearing a crown appears in the window. The Prince runs out of the castle.

      Act 4: In tears, Odette tells her friends Siegfried did not keep his vow of love. Seeing Siegfried is coming, Odette's friends leave and urge her to go with them, but Odette wants to see Siegfried one last time. A storm begins. Siegfried enters and begs Odette for forgiveness. Odette refuses and attempts to leave. Siegfried snatches the crown from her head and throws it in the lake, saying "Willing or unwilling, you will always remain with me!" The owl flies overhead, carrying away the crown. "What have you done? I am dying!" Odette says, and falls into Siegfried's arms. The lake rises from the storm and drowns Odette and Siegfried. The storm quiets, and a group of swans appears on the lake.[24]

      Alternative endings

      Many different endings exist, ranging from romantic to tragic.