*Classical ballets have evolved over time, lending themselves to different interpretations as choreographers and directors create works that reflect their visions of the story. The following is intended to provide general information; for details on different versions, click on each of the Swan Lake performances below.
PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS IN SWAN LAKE (in alphabetical order)
Odette: aka, the White Swan, previously a Princess
Odile: aka, the Black Swan, daughter to Rothbart
Prince Siegfried: In love with Odette
The Queen: Mother to Siegfried
Rothbart: Father to Odile
SWAN LAKE SYNOPSIS
⊙ ACT I: A LAKESIDE PARK BY THE PALACE
It is Prince Siegfried’s birthday and his mother, the Queen, gifts him with a crossbow along with her request that he finally settle down and marry. She goes so far as to present her son with a few eligible princesses but he is not receptive and prefers to drink and be merry with his friends if he cannot marry for love. The Prince escapes the pressure and melancholy of the court by joining the hunting party his friend Benno has organized in response to the flock of swans he has seen flying overhead.
⊙ ACT II: A MOONLIT LAKESIDE
Prince Siegfried separates from the rest of the hunting party when a swan crosses his path. He takes aim with his new crossbow but suddenly halts when the swan transforms into the beautiful Princess Odetette right before his eyes. She pleads with the Prince to drop his weapon and explains how she and her fellow swan maidens are cast under the spell of the evil Rothbart – they are swans by day and only revert to their human forms for a few hours every evening. The only thing that can break the spell is the love of one who has never loved before.
Enamored, Prince Siegfried endeavors – and eventually succeeds – in gaining the trust and love of Odette. Yet when dawn breaks, she is but a swan again and is drawn back to the lake.
⊙ ACT III: THE PALACE
Relentless, the Queen has prepared a grand ball at the palace during which her son is to choose his betrothed. Naturally, he is distracted by his love for Odette – a secret that he has not shared with anyone. The regal candidates are presented by their ambassadors and dance for the Prince in the hopes of winning his attention. None succeed.
The festivities are suddenly interrupted by a couple of uninvited guests, Rothbart and his daughter Odile who has been made to resemble Odette. Odile does everything in her power to dazzle him (including with the famous 32 fouettés!) and the ploy works; soon Prince Siegfried falls under the evil master’s spell and in love with Odile, therefore breaking his vow of fidelity to Odette. He promises to marry Odile right before Rothbart presents him with a vision of Odile. The Prince, now aware of his grave error, flees back to the lake in despair.
⊙ ACT IV: THE LAKESIDE
Editor’s note: The ending of Swan Lake varies significantly depending on the vision of the choreographer. Below are a couple of the scenarios.
Upon finding Odette at the lake, Prince Siegfried begs for his true love’s forgiveness. Knowing that they can never be together because of his betrayal, she grants him his wish.
• As she does not want to be a swan forever, Odette prefers to die. Siegfried chooses to stay united with her and thus jumps into the lake with her. They are now happily together for always, Rothbart’s spell is broken, and the swan maidens all return to their human form.
• Rothbart returns to the scene just in time to disrupt reunited couple. He conjures up a violent storm; at the end, Odette is left alone to mourn the death of her love.
★ INTERESTING FACT ★ Upon making her debut as Odette/Odile in SWAN LAKE, Anna Sobeshchanskaya was so displeased with the ballet in general that she requested Petipa to add a pas de deux which he did so to music by Ludwig Minkus. Insulted, Tchaikovsky said he should be the composer, thus creating music to fit the finished choreography. George Balanchine also ended up choreographing to this section of the score, titling it simply (and now famously) “Tchaikovsky pas de deux”.