Swan Lake premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet on 4 March 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The scenario, initially in two acts, was fashioned from Russian folk tales 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 and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the music in 1875–76.
The première was not well-received, with near unanimous criticism concerning the dancers, orchestra, and stage sets. Unfortunately Tchaikovsky’s masterful score was lost in the debacle of the poor production, and though there were a few critics who recognised its virtues, most considered it to be far too complicated for ballet. Most of the critics were not themselves familiar with ballet or music but rather with spoken melodrama. Critics considered Tchaikovsky’s music “too noisy, too ‘Wagnerian’ and too symphonic.” The critics also found fault with Reisinger’s choreography which they thought was “unimaginative and altogether unmemorable.
Svetlana Zakharova and Denis Rodkin in Act II Grand Pas-de-Deux
During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Petipa and Vsevolozhsky considered reviving Swan Lake and were in talks with Tchaikovsky about doing so. Tchaikovsky died on 6 November 1893, just when plans to revive Swan Lake were beginning to come to fruition. Italian composer Riccardo Eugenio Drigo was forced to revise the score himself, but not before receiving approval from Tchaikovsky’s younger brother, Modest.
Svetlana Zakharova and Denis Rodkin in Black Pas de Deux
The revival premièred Friday, 27 January 1895. Although the Petipa/Ivanov/Drigo version was a success, it was given only sixteen performances between the première and the 1895–1896 season and no performances in the 1897 season.