What do you know about “The Nutcracker”?

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Some people say, that Christmas isn’t complete without watching “The Nutcracker” which has become the most popular ballet of our times. It is a symbol of New Year’s magic, a festive ballet of the great Russian composer P.I. Tchaikovsky.

“The Nutcracker” which stands apart from the tradition of the ballet genre is an innovative two-act ballet by P. I. Tchaikovsky to a libretto by Marius Petipa.  It is based on the Christmas fairy tale ” The Nutcracker and the Mouse King ” written by E. T. A. Hoffmann as well as and its adaptation made by Dumas, and was choreographed by  Lev Ivanov .

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 1888.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 1888.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky was asked to compose an opera consisting of one act and a ballet in 1890. He began working on the ballet with Marius Petipa, constantly consulting with him even about music. The job went fast but, in the spring of 1891, Tchaikovsky was forced to pause as he had to go to the United States for the opening of the famous Carnegie Hall. Trying to meet the deadline for the ballet, Tchaikovsky managed to compose even on the road on a streamer but he was unsuccessful and was forced to ask Vsevolozhsky to reschedule the premiere, sending him a letter from Paris.


As soon as Tchaikovsky returned the work continued and was completely finished by February 1892. A very successful suite from the music from the ballet orchestrated by Tchaikovsky himself was played in march 1992 in one of the symphony concerts of the Russian Musical Society. At the request of the public five out of the six numbers were repeated.

Konstantin Ivanov's original sketch for the set of The Nutcracker (1892).
Konstantin Ivanov’s original sketch for the set of The Nutcracker (1892).

By that time Petipa was seriously ill but he left detailed instruction for the production of “The Nutcracker” to Lev Ivanov who was the second choreographer of the Marinsky Theater.

The ballet rehearsals began at the end of September 1892, then on december 6 (18) the premiere was performed at the Marinsky Theater where the ballet played for more than 30 years.

In 1923, the performance was restored by the choreographer F. Lopukhov. Then, in 1929, he created a new choreographic version of the play, and when World War II began the heroine of the ballet whom had been called Clara was called Masha, but her brother Fritz who is a negative character kept his name.

Overview of the plot of “The Nutcracker”

Title page of the edition of The Nutcracker's Story (1845)
Title page of the edition of The Nutcracker’s Story (1845)

The guests gather in the Zilbergauz house as Christmas Eve has arrived. Children admire the magnificent Christmas tree, but wait impatiently for long-awaited gifts.

Finally the clock struck midnight and a mysterious guest, Drosselmeyer, appeared, bringing incredible gifts which consist of mechanical dolls that he made them himself. His ability to bring toys to life not only amuses children, but also scares them. Then, Drosselmeyer takes off his mask, and the children recognize their favorite godfather. 

The father being afraid that the children will break the dolls, orders them to be locked in a closet in his office which upset Clara. To calm the girl, her godfather gives her the Nutcracker. 


But her brother, Fritz accidentally breaks the doll, and Clara pitying the Nutcracker, laid him on the bed of her favorite doll.

Fritz and his friends put on mouse masks and start teasing Clara. Then, it is time for the children to go to bed, and everyone goes home after the dance of the traditional Grossvater by the guests. 

The room in which the tree is located is filled with moonlight as night falls.

Before going to bed, Clara returns and hugs the Nutcracker. And then Drosselmeyer appears, but now he is no longer a godfather. Instead he is a kind wizard who waves his hand making everything in the room beginning to change: the walls move apart, the tree begins to grow, and the Christmas decorations come to life and become soldiers. 

Suddenly mice appear under the leadership of the Mouse King and the brave Nutcracker leads the soldiers into battle. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King meet in a fight to the death. 

Clara sees that the army of mice outnumbers the army of soldiers, and in desperation, she takes off her shoe and throws it with all her might at the Mouse King. He is wounded and runs away with his army. 

The army of soldiers won, and triumphantly carry Clara on their shoulders to the Nutcracker. 

Suddenly, the latter’s face begins to change. He ceases to be the Nutcracker and turns into a handsome Prince. He asks Clara to follow him and the couple disappears into the lush needles of the Christmas tree and find themselves in a fairytale winter forest. Snowflakes dance, after their dance everything subsides, and the snow glistens in the fabulous light of the moon.

Clara and the Prince admire the beauty of the starry sky, and remember how they were attacked by mice, and how the Prince defeated them. Everyone is dancing, having fun and celebrating the victory over the mouse army. Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian dolls thank Clara for saving their lives. 

In a magical city, a happy couple is waiting. The Fairy Dragee herself is ready to accept them. The couple sails in a boat made of gilded shells. Fairy-tale characters dance for a happy couple. 

Drosselmeyer appears and again changes everything around. Everyone is preparing for the wedding of Clara and the Prince. 

Then, Clara wakes up with the Nutcracker still in her hands. She is in a familiar room. Alas, it was just a dream…

Read “The Nutcracker” in French or watch “The Nutcracker” Ballet

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