February 20th 1877: Swan Lake debut
On this day in 1877, by the old-style calendar, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake had its debut at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Tchaikovsky, already a noted composer, was commissioned to compose the ballet by Vladimir Petrovich Begichev, the intendant of the Russian Imperial Theatres. Borrowing from Russian folk tales, Tchaikovsky wrote the ballet in 1875-6, telling the story of princess Odette as she is transformed into a swan by an evil sorceror. The original show - then called The Lake of the Swans - was performed by the famous Bolshoi Ballet, and was choreographed by Julius Reisinger. This first performance was not well received, with its score and choreography criticised as too complex, and Tchaikovsky never saw his ballet achieve the iconic status it now enjoys. Only after the composer’s death in 1893 was Swan Lake eventually revived, with a new version of the music produced by Tchaikovsky‘s brother and others, along with new choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The 1895 version of Swan Lake was a success, and subsequent productions owe more stylistically to this version than the initial 1877 performance. Swan Lake is one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous compositions - alongside other iconic pieces like The Nutcracker and the 1812 Overture - and remains one of the world’s favourite ballets.