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The Swan Lake Ballet Guide

Sophie Parcen as Odette

Sophie Parcen's Page

This guide contains an explanation of what happens during the various pieces of music in Swan Lake. The reader should be aware though, that numerous interpretations of Swan Lake exist. Therefore the one below is just one among many. There are some elements though, which will normally be part of the Swan Lake ballet and they should be identifiable from the text below.

Presents a summary of Swan Lake's musical essence.

First Act

No. 1 Scéne
The German Prince Siegfried sits in a magnificent park and drinks wine. He is surrounded by his friends and his tutor Wolfgang. It is his birthday and the day before his coming of age. His time as an adolecent is running out. He will soon be a man.
A group of peasants comes to congratulate the Prince on his birthday. Siegfried's tutor Wolfgang encourages the peasents to dance for the Prince and they are happy to oblige. Siegfried is in a great mood and asks the servants to serve the peasants wine, which livens up the already lively crowd.

No. 2 Valse
The dance and the merry-making continues.

No. 3 Scéne
A messenger arrives and says, that the Queen is on her way to the park and that she wants to speak to her son. The peasents feel insecure about the situation and the dancing comes to an end. Afraid of what the Queen might think of this spontaneous party, the servants hurry to put away the tables and the wine. Wolfgang tries to sober himself up a little and look less drunk.
Prince Siegfried's mother, the Queen, arrives with her servants and ladies-in-waiting. She is greeted respectfully and Wolfgang goes to meet her. The Queen says to her son, Siegfried, that she did not come to spoil the festivities. She has come to talk to him about marriage. She is old and she wants to see her son married before she dies. Thus she will know, that their bloodline shall not die out, but live on in his children. The Prince does not feel ready for marriage, but will not go against his mother. Therefore he asks her whom she has arranged for him to marry. The Queen tells him, that she wants him to chose his bride himself. Therefore she has arranged a splendid ball, which will take place the next night. The ball will be attended by all the women, who are worthy to marry Siegfried and he must chose his bride among them. Siegfried agrees to the arrangement. Before the Queen leaves she says, that they should carry on their marry-making.
As the Queen has left the Prince is surrounded by his friends and he explains the situation to them. He feels sad, that his carefree life, as an adolecent, is coming to an end. The knight Benno comforts him and manages to bring back his good mood. The party, the drinking and the dancing begins anew.

No. 4 Pas de Trois
The party continues.

No. 5 Pas de Deux
The party continues.

No. 6 Pas d'action
Siegfried's tutor Wolfgang has become exceedingly drunk and begins to dance a dignified dance, which becomes more and more silly as it evolves. It all ends in a lot of laughter and merriment.

No. 7 Sujet
It begins to grow dark and one of the guests suggest, that the last dance should be done with their wine goblets in their hands.

No. 8 Danse des Coupes
Everyone agree to the suggestion and the "Goblet Dance" begins. They all have fun and life is good.

No. 9 Finale: Sujet
As the dance ends, a flight of swans appears in the nightsky. The knight Benno suggests, that they should hunt the swans and abandon Wolfgang, who is now quite incapable due to the large amount of wine he has enjoyed. Siegfried agrees to the hunt and hurries after Benno in the direction of the swans. He brings his crossbow with him.

Second Act

No. 10 Scéne
Siegfried and the knight Benno watch the swans as they land and cross a moonlit lake.

No. 11 Scéne
The Prince and the knight Benno prepare their weapons and take aim. The Prince aims at what seems to be the leader of the swans. But just as they are about to fire, the swans turn into beautiful girls. The leader of the swans, whose name is Odette, proves to be an enchanted princess. She and her ladies-in-waiting are under the spell of the powerful wizard Rotbart. During the day they are swans, but when the night comes they return to their human form, only to become swans anew, when the sun rises. The spell can only be broken if someone marries Odette. Rotbart appears and tries to scare the Prince away, but to no avail. Siegfried realizes, that the swan, whom he was about to kill, is a girl and his heart is full of regret, as he pleads forgiveness from the girl. She accepts his apology.

No. 12 Scéne
Prince Siegfried breaks his crossbow to fruther demonstrate his remorse.

No. 13 Danses des Cygnes
Siegfried has fallen deeply in love with the beautiful Odette and declares his love to her. She too has fallen in love with this handsome young prince. Siegfried begs Odette to attend the ball where he must chose his bride. She accepts.

No. 14 Scéne
Dawn is neigh and Odette runs away from prince Siegfried together with the other swan girls. They hide and when they reappear they have become swans once more.

Third Act

No. 15 Allegro Giusto
It is the night of the ball where the prince must chose his bride. Prince Siegfried and the Queen arrive to the ball room. The general guests arrive.

No. 16 Danses du Corps de Ballet et des Nains
The ball begins and the guests begin to dance. There is a group of dwarves whose comic dances amuse the guests.

No. 17 Scéne: Sortie des Invités et Valse
It is announced that more guests will now arrive. This time it is the various princesses, who arrive. Siegfried is disinterested in these else beautiful princesses.

No. 18 Scéne
Then Rotbart arrives with his daughter Odile. Due to Rotbart's magic Odile looks exactly like Odette. Siegfried is delighted to see Odile, whom he believes to be Odette.

No. 19 Pas de Six
The princesses are presented to Siegfried, but he has only eyes for Odile, whom he thinks is Odette.

No. 20 Danse Hongroise
The Hungarian dance.

No. 20a Danse Russe
The Russian dance.

No. 21 Danse Espagnole
The Spanish dance.

No. 22 Danse Napolitaine
The Neapolitan dance.

No. 23 Mazurka
The splendid dance culmination of the previous four national dances.

No. 24 Scéne
The Queen is happy to see her son's fondness of Odile. Siegfried announces, that he has found his bride to be. Odile, whom he believes to be Odette, is going to be his bride. He kisses Odile's hand to seal the truth of his words. At that moment the ball room falls into darkness and the swan girl Odette is seen in a light through a window up high. Siegfried realizes his mistake and follows the fleeing swan into the night.

Fourth Act

No. 25 Entr'acte
Odette flees towards the swan lake and Siegfried runs after her.

No. 26 Scéne
The other swan girls await Odette at the lake. They feel sad and confused, that Odette is not with them. None of them knows where she is.

No. 27 Danses des Petits Cygnes
The swan girls dance a melancholy dance.

No. 28 Scéne
Odette arrives at the swan lake and heart broken she tells her tale to her friends.

No. 29 Scéne Finale
Siegfried arrives and begs forgiveness from Odette, but it is too late. Odette dies and the water of the lake engulfs both Odette and the prince. When the water calms down again the remaining swans are seen gliding across the lake.