Swan Lake (French: Le Lac des Cygnes, Russian: Лебединое озеро, Lebedinoje ozero) is a classical ballet in four acts. The Bolshoi Ballet premiered the piece on March 4, 1877 at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.
There is uncertainty about who wrote the libretto. Presumably Vladimir Begichev and Vasily Geltser were the authors. The story shows similarities with different fairy tales, including The Stolen Veil by German writer Johann Musäus and the Russian fairy tale The White Duck. The original choreography is by Julius Reisinger. Tchaikovsky composed the music.
The first production was not a success. Swan Lake only became popular after a revival by the Mariinskiballet in 1895. Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov provided a completely new choreography for this. Their version has since been used as the traditional version. Tchaikovsky wanted to create a new score, but died before he could do this. Riccardo Drigo adapted the original composition to the score that is used today.
A party at the castle because of Prince Siegfried’s birthday. He has just come of age. The prince himself is carefree and elated, but his mother rebukes him. She warns that he must choose a girl on the next ball to marry.
The prince and his retinue are on the hunt. They arrive at a lake with swans. The consequence is to shoot the swans. Odette, the queen of swans, intervenes. She explains to the prince that a curse rests on them. The swans are actually young women, but the evil wizard Von Rothbart bewitched them. Every night the swans take their true form. It is often difficult for the viewer to decide when the ballerinas suggest swans and when people. However, this does not matter so much to follow the story. When the prince sees Odette, he falls in love immediately. The two bring a pas de deux and Siegfried asks Odette to come to his next ball. He promises to marry her. Odette tells him it is impossible to be a bride before the spell is broken. The spell forces Odette to go to the lake again as a swan and this separates the two lovers from each other.
Siegfried has returned to the castle. The prince and his mother receive six girls who want to win the prince’s love. Guests come from distant countries and bring national dances. Then Von Rothbart appears. He brought his daughter Odile with him. The wizard used his magic to make her look like Odette. Odile dances with the prince in a second pass de deux. Afterwards the prince declares his love for her. Outside of the castle, Odette despairs this betrayal. The wizard and his daughter leave the party in triumph.
Odette and the other swans mourn at their lake. When Siegfried appears, Odette avoids him until he explains Von Rothbart’s deceit. Then at the hands of the wizard, a storm sets in. The two lovers find each other, but drown together in the lake.