June 23, 2023

#08-320: Swan Lake

Prince Siegfried and Odette (Wikimedia)

Note: Few works of ballet have penetrated the popular consciousness like Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Here's the story it depicts.

Get Ready: Have you ever been to a ballet, or watched one on a video? What's your impression?

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is one of the most recognizable works in the Western Canon of classical music, and the image of a ballerina floating slowly across the stage en pointe while gracefully waving her arms like a swan's wings leaves an indelible impression on the mind of the viewer.

As familiar as this beautiful image is to the general public, few (besides balletomanes) realize there is an equally beautiful story behind it.

The story begins on the grounds of a castle where Prince Siegfried is celebrating his coming-of-age with his friends. Siegfried's mother, the Queen, arrives to remind him that he must get serious: tomorrow he will choose his bride. But he would prefer to stay single and carefree. He and his intoxicated friends go off into the woods to hunt.

The second scene takes place on the banks of the lake, where swans glide under the moon. While Siegfried is alone, the queen of the swans, Odette, appears to him in human form and explains that she and the other swans are under a spell by a wicked sorcerer named Rothbart, one which can only be broken by True Love from one who has never given his heart to another. Otherwise, they will appear human only between midnight and sunrise; the rest of the time they are swans.

Unfortunately, Rothbart is nearby, disguised as an owl, and plans how to thwart the lovers. The hunting party returns and the swan-maidens dance for the men.

Scene III takes place in the castle's opulent ballroom, where foreign guests arrive and dances from various countries are performed. Rothbart has turned his daughter, Odile, into a doppelganger for Odette, and Siegfried falls for her, proposing to her then and there. Odette arrives too late: Siegfried has now given his heart to another.

The last scene returns to the banks of the lake. Odette tells the swan-maidens that all is lost. Siegfried arrives and begs forgiveness, saying he was tricked. But Odette cannot change the rules. She must remain a swan forever or die; she chooses death, and together she and Siegfried plunge into the lake and drown; in death, the spell is broken and the two are united for eternity.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. balletomanes
  2. canon
  3. coming-of-age
  4. doppelganger
  5. en pointe
  6. glide
  7. indelible
  8. intoxicated
  9. opulent
  10. thwart
  1. unable to be erased
  2. on "tippy toe"
  3. luxurious; elegant
  4. becoming an adult
  5. drunk
  6. lovers of ballet
  7. double; person who looks identical
  8. prevent
  9. move smoothly
  10. an accepted body of creative work

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 23, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. j; 3. d; 4. g; 5. b; 6. i; 7. a; 8. e; 9. c; 10. h