The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

Pyotr Tchaikovsky / Toer van Schayk, Wayne Eagling

  • Act I

    50 min.

  • Intermission

    20 min.

  • Act II

    50 min.

Duration: ca. 2 hrs

Ballet féerie in two acts
Libretto: Marius Petipa after a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann
World premiere of this production: 13 December 1996, Dutch National Ballet, Amsterdam
Polish premiere of this production: 25 November 2011, Polish National Ballet, Warsaw

One might wonder whether Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, one of the greatest masterpieces of children’s literature, would have gained the popularity it did if it were not for Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s music. Indeed, many of us were raised on Hoffmann’s fairytale, yet it is the Russian composer’s score that continues to attract subsequent generations to theatres around the globe, the Polish National Opera included.

We owe The Nutcracker, or Shchelkunchik in Russian (1893), to the success of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, the libretto for which was written by prominent Saint Petersburg-based dancer and choreographer, Marius Petipa, who is considered the father of Russian classical ballet. In the wake of The Sleeping Beauty’s triumph, the head of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg commissioned the composer to write two other pieces: the opera Iolanta and a ballet based on the stage adaptation of Hoffmann’s novella by Alexandre Dumas fils.  

Tchaikovsky composed his score strictly adhering to the recommendations and requirements of Petipa, yet the piece does not sound anything like its contemporary counterparts. Nineteenth-century ballets were medleys of choreographic numbers where the music and plot were merely a pretext to showcase the dancers’ skills. Resounding with the mysterious sound of the Glockenspiel, Tchaikovsky’s score is like a magical lighthouse that unveils the poetic universe of children’s imagination before the audience’s eyes, breathing life into inanimate objects who engage in a fight between Good and Evil over the festive period of Christmas that children so adore. The composer did a great job capturing the romantic fantasy of Hoffmann’s story. The fact that the orchestral suit is often programmed by symphonic orchestras is a testament to the piece’s extraordinary beauty and artistic merit.

Here, at the Polish National Opera, you may see the ballet in a staging devised by Wayne Eagling and Toer van Schayk for the Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam. The production places emphasis on Clara. Contrary to the performing tradition, it has the same dancer take on the role of the dreaming girl and the Sugar Plum Fairy, making the ballerina the central person of the story. The Nutcracker parades in a hussar’s uniform and shako bravely dealing deadly sabre strokes to the red-eyed evil mice.

Eagling and van Schayk moved the first act to Warsaw to make the children in the audience feel more at home and connected to the story. The events unfold against a backdrop of the Warsaw Old Town skyline: St John’s cathedral, the Sigismund column and classicist architecture. But there is more to it than it seems: E. T. A. Hoffmann – who was a writer, poet, composer, music critic, as well as a lawyer and cat lover – worked in the Prussia-controlled Warsaw as a civil servant from 1803 until 1806, when the Napoleonic army entered the city. He wrote The Nutcracker after his return to Germany, in 1816.

Cast

Credits

Polish National Ballet
Orchestra of the Polish National Opera
Władysław Skoraczewski Artos Children’s Choir 

Sponsors

  • Patrons of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Partners of the Opera Academy

  • Partners of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Partner of the Polish National Ballet

  • Media patrons