A CHILD'S GUIDE TO SWAN LAKE
A brief synopsis
This is the story of Swan Lake. Like all such stories, it is ridiculous but it makes a marvellous ballet! Also, I think you’ll like Tchaikovsky’s music which is terrific.
Siegfried is a prince. (A lot of people in stories, particularly in ballet and operas, are often princes and many of them have this name.) His Mum, who is Queen, wants him to marry because he is about to ‘come of age’; that is twenty one years old.
The ballet opens with a party at the Prince’s house. Princes in these stories seem to spend a lot of the time partying. His Mum looks like Cruella de Ville in ‘1001 Dalmatians’ but she’s not nearly so nasty; she’s just cross with her son because he cannot find a woman he loves. She introduces him to six eligible females who prance about the stage with great delicacy, looking very pretty but they fail to impress young Siegfried.
It is the Prince’s birthday. His Mum, the Queen, lays on a huge birthday bash, this one even more lavish than the last. Lots of hangers-on leap about the stage showing off their stuff but the Prince fails to respond to any of the girls presented to him. His Mum, though still annoyed, presents him with a very fine crossbow (WMD) for his birthday. Don’t ask me why. He and his faithful retainer (tutor - there’s always one of those) take the cross bow down to the lake one evening, (most princes live in houses near a handy lake).
He takes aim at a swan and is about to shoot it (illegal in this country as all swans belong to HM Queen (ours), not the one in the story) and what do you think happens?
The swan in his sights turns out to be none other than Princess Odette, who was transformed in to a swan by the wicked half man, half bird, Rothbart (say it: ROT as in: “Rot my socks” and BART as in: “Bart Simpson”) (he makes Cruella de Ville look like Snow White). It is never explained why he did this although Odette bears a striking resemblance to Rothbart’s own daughter, Odile whom he would like to marry off to Siegfried. (More of her later.) This is love at first sight for both parties. She is mad for him; he is captivated by her delicate charm and the fact that she can spin on her pointes, seemingly forever. They declare undying love for one another but a clap of thunder announces the return of nasty old Rothbart who whisks everybody (swans and cygnets alike) back to the lake.
Back at the castle, yet another party is in progress, this time everybody is again showing how well they can dance dances of various different nationalities. When everybody has had a turn the trumpeters announce the arrival of two important guests. Here is rotten old Rothbart with his daughter, Odile, on his arm in a black tutu (to distinguish her from Odette, who always appears in white, her being a swan and all!). Poor old (young) Siegfried is completely fooled into thinking mistakenly, as it turns out; she is indeed his beloved Odette but, just in funeral clothes.
In front of everybody, including his delighted Mum, he declares his love for this lady and promises to marry her. There is much rejoicing. Mum is pleased, the servants are pleased and the peasants are pleased. They are all pleased because it means there’ll be yet another party.
Just as Siegfried and Odile are jiving away, Odette, who is a swan, remember, floats past in the sky. Siegfried, notices her through the window and realises he’s been tricked. He’s promised to marry the wrong girl! Curses! He suggests to Rothbart that the marriage be called off as he would prefer to marry Princess Odette but Odile’s Dad is having none of it. A promise is a promise!
Rothbart and Odile leave in triumph, having spread panic among the guests, all of which puts rather a damper on proceedings, you might say. Poor Mum is bewildered by events, utterly unable to cope at all with the situation.
Siegfried is distraught and hurries down to the lake where lo and behold are the full company of swans (twenty four in all when I saw this) and of course, the object of his passion. She is overwhelmed by the bad news and after some exquisite pas de deux she and Siegfried jump into the lake where they both drown.
This raises an interesting point of ornithology because surely, no self respecting swan would drown itself but, there you are, that, as they say, is show business!