Swan Lake

Pyotr Tchaikovsky / Krzysztof Pastor

  • Act 1

    35 min.

  • Intermission

    20 min.

  • Act 2

    55 min.

  • Intermission

    20 min.

  • Act 3

    45 min.

Duration: 2 h 55 mins

Ballet in three acts with a prologue and an epilogue
New libretto: Paweł Chynowski
Music: Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Musical redaction: Paweł Chynowski and Alexei Baklan
World premiere: 4 March 1877, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
World premiere of this production: 20 May 2017, Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

Dazzled by Mathilde Kschessinska’s performance in The Sleeping Beauty, Pyotr Tchaikovsky promised to write his next ballet especially for her. What he did instead was drown in a glass of water or, to be more specific, he carelessly drank one containing the cholera-causing bacteria. Decades later, librettist Paweł Chynowski decided to rectify fate’s mistake. Luckily, the young ballerina had also caught the eye of the much younger, and healthier, tsarevich Nicholas (whose life was, nevertheless, to be cut short years later by the swift wind of revolution). His feeling was mutual and developed into a fiery affair lasting until the heir apparent’s diplomatic marriage to a Hessian princess. The creators of this version of Swan Lake have replaced the original fairy tale characters with historical figures to tell the story of the royal love affair. The score has been rearranged, the sequence of musical episodes altered, and the choreography devised anew. Rest assured, however, Krzysztof Pastor kept the seminal white act intact. Not because he lacked the courage to temper with the iconic piece of ballet, but because he wanted to celebrate this ‘compositionally simple’ sequence ‘whose clarity, musicality, and timing all come together to produce extraordinary, sophisticated beauty’



Polish National Ballet
Orchestra of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera


  • The ballet is set in Russia in 1884‒1896,

    PROLOGUE (1884)

    While twelve-year-old Princess Alix of Hesse is visiting St. Petersburg, Tsarevich Nicky, four years her senior, and an admirer of Tchaikovsky’s music, hears a melody from Swan Lake. It is young Alix playing the piano, her eyes fixed on a beloved toy swan. Nicky is enchanted by the sight of the dreamy little girl and, inspired, he joins her in playing the piano. When Tsar Alexander enters the music room, the governess hurriedly leads Alix away. Disconcerted, Nicky stops playing and, clutching the little girl’s swan, obediently leaves under his father’s reprimanding gaze. The tsar doesn’t approve of the crown prince’s romantic raptures, so he takes the princess’s toy away.

  • ,

    ACT I (1890)

    Scene 1. The Legation
    Six years later, envoys from the Duchy of Hesse come to the Russian court to arrange a marriage between Princess Alix and the heir to the Russian throne. A ball is in progress at the palace, and Nicky’s aide-de-camp, Volkov the hussar, is showing off. In anticipation of the tsarevich’s arrival, he proposes a ballet performance. Volkov introduces two young ballerinas, Mathilde Kschessinska of Polish descent and Olga Preobrajenska who is Russian, to the imperial family. The three of them then perform a dance. The crown prince finally arrives. Nicky notices Mathilde as she leaves, but the Hessian envoys approach, carrying a portrait of their princess lost in a book. The tsarevich is enchanted with the picture of his youthful love, but the tsar firmly turns down the Hessian mission. Alix has also sent Nicky her favourite fairy tale about enchanted swans, but the tsar is outraged at the princess’s premature gift to his son and angrily leaves the room with his family. Nicky feels deeply hurt by his father’s arrogance and humiliated in the eyes of the court. He transfers his feelings to the book knocked down by his father, and it makes him long even more for Alix.

  • ,

    ACT II (1890)

    Scene 2. The Manoeuvres
    The tsarevich’s guardsmen are holding manoeuvres at the lake in Krasnoye Selo. Surrounded by men of his own age, Nicky tries to forget his conflict with his father, but his thoughts keep revolving around Alix. After the exercises, the guardsmen arrange some entertainment to distract the tsarevich from his nostalgia. The men’s display is interrupted by the arrival of the tsar. He is visiting the soldiers at the training ground. The Tsar is accompanied by his favourite Polish mazurka dancer, Feliks Kschessinski, and some female dancers, among them Mathilde and her friend Olga. Tsar Alexander wants to mollify his son by fraternizing with his comrades. Dancing begins, and the mazurka featuring Kschessinski and his daughter draws Nicky’s attention to Mathilde, who even manages to get the tsarevich to join in. When the tsar and Kschessinski leave the youngsters to their fun, the guardsmen and dancers conclude with a polonaise while Nicky goes back to his fairy tale. Mathilde can sense the tsarevich likes her, so she tries once again to dispel his gloomy mood. Nicky yields for a moment, but then loses his self-confidence and turns back to his beloved book. He asks Volkov to escort Mathilde away, then dismisses him as well, surrendering to his thoughts.

    Scene 3. Dreaming of Alix
    The tsarevich returns to his tent longing for Alix and dreamily falls asleep holding her book. His dreams are disturbed by images of his domineering father, but loving visions of Alix in her fairy tale about Odette transformed into a swan prevail. Meanwhile, fascinated by the tsarevich, Mathilde refuses to give up and follows him. As Nicky continues wandering among the swans in his dream, she creeps into his tent. Looking through the book the tsarevich is always reading, Mathilde begins to understand his romantic fantasies and finds great pleasure in filling them with her real presence.

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    ACT III (1894)

    Scene 4. The Masked Ball
    Four years later Mathilde is the prima ballerina of the imperial theatre and the crown prince’s mistress, receiving the best company at her elegant residence. Aware of Nicky’s weakness for the romantic fairy tale about enchanted swans, she has ordered her conservatory to be decorated accordingly. The tsarevich is delighted, as he feels like he was dreaming, despite the fact that the dances at the masked ball don’t quite fit in with the poetic world of his dreams. When Mathilde realizes this, she slips away at Olga’s advice, only to return a short while later in a swan costume. Thrilled by her new incarnation, Nicky loses his detachment and happily surrenders to her charms. Kschessinski tries to curb his daughter’s behaviour, but she is out of control. Amidst the fun, worrying news arrives of Tsar Alexander’s illness. Nicky is in shock. As he was busy enjoying himself, he had forgotten about his father and his beloved Alix. He then wants to escape from reality.

    Scene 5. Return to Alix
    Again, solace comes from the imaginary world at the swan lake. Alix, betrayed, is still waiting for him among her swan companions. As the fairy-tale Odette, she forgives him for his infidelity, unfortunately not changing the tsar’s opposition. Nicky decides to fight for his love, even if it must be with his own father. When he finally frees himself from his father’s power, Odette turns into the real-life Princess Alix.

    Scene 6. Farewell to Father
    Tsar Alexander is very ill. Surrounded by his family, he waits only for the crown prince’s return. Arriving, Nicky notices with satisfaction that the entourage also includes his beloved Alix. In a gesture of remorse and appeasement, the tsar gives him back the worn toy swan that he took away from him all those years ago. He blesses his son’s love and dies, reconciled with him.

    Scene 7. Farewell to Mathilde
    Before marrying Alix the tsarevich wants to say goodbye to Mathilde. His former lover awaits him in the place that originally brought them together. She greets Nicky, who is mournfully pensive, as the new tsar. Sweet memories come flooding back, but the lake reminds him of Alix, resulting in the tsarevich bidding Mathilde farewell forever.

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    Epilogue (1896)

    The tsar is dead, long live the tsar
    A courtly procession in honour of Nicky’s coronation as the new Emperor Nicholas II and Alix as the new Empress Alexandra commences. The tsarevich’s childhood love has come true, but he faces the great unknown of ruling the empire. From now on he will only be able to see Mathilde on the stage of the imperial theatre…


  • Patrons of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Partners of the Opera Academy

  • Partners of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Partner of the Polish National Ballet