December 18, 1892 marks the day “The Nutcracker” premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia, a week before the country’s Christmas celebrations.
Behind the Scenes
The origin of this Classic Christmas story is based on two acts with life lessons for the family’s Christmas Eve celebration. Although it does not mention Nativity or Christ, the play has fairies, Christmas trees, and children.
Tchaikovsky extracted a 20-minute suite from the original performance of choreographer Lev Ivanov who was St. Petersburg Imperial Theaters’ Second Ballet master. Marius Petipa, the Theatres’ Premier Maître de Ballet and Father of Russian Ballet, also had an input in the holiday Ballet. Riccardo Drigo filled the role of conductor.
The ballet’s December 1892 premiere was held with “Iolanta,” popularly known as Tchaikovsky’s last opera
The play featured folk characters for a Sugar Plum Fairy role by Antoinetta Dell-Era, a Nutcracker Prince by Sergei Legat, Uncle Drosselmeyer by Timofei Stukolkin, and a Clara/Masha performance by Stanislava Belinskaya.
In 1934, the play received international reception, with the first performance outside Russia occurring in England. “The Nutcracker” made its way into American ballet performance selections in 1944.
In recent decades, almost all major American ballet companies have included “The Nutcracker” in their film, stage, and television performances. Like Handle’s performance, Tchaikovsky’s December 18 opening was panned by critics. However, it became a successful and famous repertoire for most ballet dances, primarily because of its background and life lessons.