Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choreography: Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov
The Palace Courtyard, late afternoon
It is Prince Siegfried’s 21st birthday. Young people have gathered to celebrate the occasion, including the Prince’s friend Benno and Wolfgang, his old tutor. The festivities are spirited and there is much dancing and games. In the midst of the activity the Prince’s mother arrives to remind her son that his coming of age is a serious affair – it is a time for him to marry. A ball has been arranged for the following evening and there, from a group of prospective fiancées, he is to choose a bride. Siegfried is disconsolate at the thought of his carefree youth slipping away. He has no desire to marry. The day draws to a close and in an attempt to cheer his friend, B enno points to a flock of wild swans in flight and suggests a hunting expedition. Deciding that the night is still to be enjoyed, Siegfried orders pursuit.
By the lake – evening
The hunting party follows the swans through the woods, reaching a clearing where they have settled on a nearby lake. Siegfried’s attention is suddenly attracted by a beautiful white swan which is transformed into a lovely young maiden. She is Odette, Queen of the Swans. The evil sorcerer Von Rothbart holds her under his spell – by day she and her friends are swans, and swans they must remain, except between midnight and dawn when they may resume their human form. Only the pure love of a young man can remove the curse. Astonished by her beauty and full of love for Odette, Siegfried’s love will destroy Von Rothbart’s power. Von Rothbart suddenly appears in the form of an owl, beckoning menacingly to Odette. As dawn breaks, the lovers bid farewell. Odette returns to the lake, resuming her guise as a swan, and Von Rothbart plots to make the Prince break his vow.
The Castle Ballroom – the following evening
The entire court is assembled for Siegfried’s betrothal ball, the invited princesses and the their families eagerly awaiting the decision of the Prince. The Prince’s mother indicates he is to choose a bride from the maidens present, but none pleases him. The young Prince’s mind is still filled with images of the beautiful Odette. Mindful of his vow of fidelity, he pays little attention to the eligible young women with whom he is presented. Suddenly, a fanfare announces the arrival of two new guests. It is Von Rothbart, disguised as a nobleman, and his daughter Odile. The Prince stands transfixed by her likeness to Odette and, overwhelmed by the unexpected appearance of his true love, he asks her to dance. Odile so bewitches the Prince that he asks for her hand in marriage. Convinced that he is with his beloved Odette, he declares his fidelity in front of all present. Triumphantly, Von Rothbart and Odile reveal themselves. The Prince realizes too late that he is a victim of their cruel treachery. Odette has been betrayed, and now can never be released from her enchantment. In despair, the Prince runs to the lake to search for her.
The lake – later that evening
Shore of Swan Lake. The gloomy, anxious night. Overwhelmed with grief Odette tells her friends of Siegfried’s betrayal. Female swans miss: their hope to be released is lost. Siegfried rushes. He has not violated his oath: there, in the castle, in Odile he has seen his Odette; his love has been paid to her. Von Rothbart is in a rage against the forces of nature lovers. It starts with a storm, lightning. But nothing can break a young, pure love and separate Odette and Siegfried. Then Von Rothbart himself enters into combat with the Prince and dies. Its charms are collapsing.
Odette and Siegfried, surrounded by Odette’s friends, joyfully greeted the first rays of Rising Sun.