20 February 1877

Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake receives its premiere at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

“Swan Lake” is one of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballets, composed in 1875–1876. It tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse, and Prince Siegfried, who falls in love with her.

Here’s an overview of the plot:

Act I: Prince Siegfried is celebrating his coming of age. His mother, the Queen, tells him he must choose a bride at the royal ball the following evening. Siegfried, feeling pressured, goes hunting with his friends. He chases a flock of swans to a lake and aims to shoot them but refrains when he sees one transform into a beautiful woman, Odette. She explains her plight to him: she and her companions are under the spell of the sorcerer Rothbart, condemned to be swans by day and women only by night.

Act II: Prince Siegfried attends the royal ball with his friends but is disheartened by the women presented to him as potential brides. Rothbart, disguised as a nobleman, arrives with his daughter Odile, who looks strikingly similar to Odette. Siegfried, deceived by Rothbart’s magic, declares his love for Odile, unknowingly breaking his vow to Odette. This action dooms Odette and her companions to remain swans forever.

Act III: Realizing his mistake, Siegfried rushes back to the lake to find Odette and beg her forgiveness. Despite her love for him, Odette knows they cannot be together because of Rothbart’s curse. In some versions, Siegfried and Odette choose to die together by leaping into the lake, while in others, they defeat Rothbart, breaking the curse and finding eternal peace.

Tchaikovsky’s score for “Swan Lake” is renowned for its lush melodies, stirring emotions, and evocative use of leitmotifs to represent characters and themes. The ballet is also notable for its demanding choreography, particularly in the roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried.

“Swan Lake” premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1877, but it wasn’t until a revised version by choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov premiered at the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg in 1895 that it achieved widespread popularity. Today, “Swan Lake” remains a staple of classical ballet repertoire and continues to captivate audiences worldwide with its timeless tale of love, betrayal, and redemption.