Despite many noteworthy titles in ballet heritage, only one has made it into the broad public awareness as the synonym for classical dance: Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
This colourful and moving story about the love of the Prince and the gentle Odette, who was turned into a swan by the evil Redbeard, has achieved immortality thanks to the overwhelming invention of the composer, and also the surviving choreographed passages of Petipa and Ivanov.
Since the original version, each new generation of ballet soloists and ensembles takes on this exciting challenge, in order to present the ultimate brilliance in dance.
The Prague State Opera's production respects the original version of the work and its sublime fairy-tale spirit, whilst meeting the expectations of those who admire the finest ballet techniques.
Act I begins under the exquisite setting of the royal court. Prince Siegfried is in a celebratory mood for his 21st birthday ball. The townspeople and neighbouring royal families join in the celebrations, wearing vibrant outfits and performing dances in his honour. When the Queen arrives she gracefully approaches her son and presents him with a magnificent crossbow, before informing him that he must now choose a bride before the Royal Ball the next evening. Various girls are presented to him, but pressured to choose a bride, the Prince and his fellow hunters run to the forest after noticing a flock of swans flying overhead.
Getting ahead of his friends the Prince finds himself alone with the swans at an enchanted lake. He watches their elegant dances, led by the most beautiful swan of them all who wears a crown upon her head. Enthralled by the Swan Queen, the Prince dismisses his friends so that he can be alone to watch the swans. And when night falls the Swan Queen turns into the beautiful maiden, Odette. Odette reveals that a wicked sorcerer has cursed her and her friends to live their days as swans. The enchanted lake has been formed by the tears of their parents, and the curse can only be broken if a pure young man pledges his love to her and they marry.
The two share a romantic dance and embrace, but before Prince Siegfried can profess his love for her, Rothbart appears and takes Odette away, and commands the rest of the swans to dance in order to stop the Prince from giving chase. Alone by the lake, Prince Siegfried vows to defeat Rothbart and free Odette from the spell, but Rothbart has a trick up his sleeve: his daughter, Odile.
Odile is identical to Odette in every aspect, except that she wears black against Odette’s innocent white. The next evening, at the Royal Ball, Prince Siegfried has danced with several girls under his mother’s request, but he cannot get Odette out of his mind. When trumpeters announce Rothbart’s arrival, he has Odile disguised as Odette on his arm. The Prince is ecstatic and captivated by Odile’s presence, not realising her true identity. As the two share a dance, the real Odette watches from a nearby window. Enchanted by Odile, Prince Siegfried pledges his eternal love for her, prompting the real Odette to flee. But when the Prince realises his mistake, he runs into the forest to find Odette, leaving the Royal Court in gloom.
At the lake the heartbroken Odette is being consoled by her fellow swans. When Prince Siegfried arrives to explain Rothbart and Odile’s trick, Odette eventually forgives him. However, Rothbart and Odile appear at the lake, and Rothbart starts to fight with the Prince. He insists Prince Siegfried must keep his promise to marry Odile, as Odette has been cursed to remain a swan forever. The Prince tells Rothbart that he would rather die with Odette than marry Odile, so he takes Odette’s hand and together they jump into the lake. Rothbart’s curse is broken by this sacrificial act of love, and the remaining swans turn back into girls, where they defeat Rothbart and Odile. Finally freed from the spell, the girls watch as the Prince and Odette are eternally united in the afterlife.