But the question needs to be asked because, as I said in the OP, it unquestionably is light-years ahead of all other ballets in terms of popularity and financial exchange value. And we all seem to love it to some degree
Is Nutcracker "the greatest ballet ever"? No. As with "the greatest painting," "the greatest novel," etc., my mind doesn't work in those directions.
I am not persuaded by this--one would never feel compelled to ask if a work in a different media (movie or book or painting) was the greatest based on these criteria--popularity and financial exchange value. I realize the comparison does not run on all fours (so to speak), but nor is it the case that "we all . . . love it to some degree" unless "to some degree" allows for an awful lot of latitude. Of course if someone is posting on a thread on "Nutcracker Chronicles" likely that person DOES love it to some degree. But that is not all balletomanes, not even all American balletomanes.
For myself, I have very much enjoyed some good-to-great performances of Nutcracker (and been bored by middling ones). I usually admire the stagecraft of the few productions I have seen. I can even get carried away by a great performance--for a few minutes anyway. I also danced in it as a child which I found unspeakably thrilling. But even as a child I did not exactly love the ballet or, at least, it was far from my favorite. (Too many children, not enough dancing: that's what I thought when I was child--plus I wasn't crazy about the Christmas theme though I realize that would not be a common reaction; even now, when I am more open to the ballet's charms than I used to be I am not mad for the children--or adults pretending to be children. if I had to choose my favorite choreography for children then it would be Balanchine's Midsummer's Night Dream. Nutcracker--not even close.) I last saw Nutcracker at NYCB about 5 years ago--it had some extraordinary highlights (including a great Sugar Plum Fairy in Ringer), but ... uh ... I did not regret that I would only have to "sit through it" once.
Is it a cultural phenomenon in the United States? Sure: I completely agree. I was vaguely under the impression that it does not play the same role in other countries and cultures and indeed only started playing that role here in the wake of Balanchine's version. And of course "here" means a country whose ballet companies need "moneymakers" and perform Nutcracker in the midst of a larger moneymaking Christmas machine. I am sometimes skeptical that more than a very few people going to see Nutcracker ever experience it as any kind of gateway ballet, leading them to attend other ballets: it's a holiday tradition, which is a different thing. They go back to Nutcracker the next year.
I do think it is a great work and I do like it and admire it. I also attribute its lasting power and even its flexibility to one thing: Tchaikovsky's score. Set the same story to Minkus or even Adam--well, we would not be having this conversation. (Maybe Delibes and we would...) Of course the story inspired Tchaikovsky (who, in turn, inspired Ivanov) so, sure they all get some credit for the template--but really I think Tchaikovsky takes the palm here. This is one of ballet's greatest scores.
There was nothing I was trying to persuade you about, I was trying to get some answers on the Artwork Nutcracker, which is pretty much taken for granted with people at this season in the U.S., as you mention. The kind of answers I wanted to give me some perspective have nevertheless been gleaned by making the question in this form, which I already said was 'awkward'.
one would never feel compelled to ask if a work in a different media (movie or book or painting) was the greatest based on these criteria--popularity and financial exchange value.
Yes, one would, if there were a comparable, virtually ritualistic single work like Nutcracker in opera, music (in whatever form), fiction, or any other art. 'Most popular opera' is not the same in opera as Nutcracker is in ballet. Nutcracker is a 'season', it is a forgone conclusion in almost all American companies, and many European ones. But thanks for answering, as you were responding to what I was asking just like the others, and making interesting remarks. That you said it is a 'great work' is important and you also said the primary reason is 'Tchaikovsky's score'. I agree it's a great score, but not as great IMO as Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty.
I do not agree with you that it is an unreasonable thing to ask the artistic merit of something which is clearly way beyond any other ballet in popularity. No offense, but if you objected to that, you didn't have to answer (which you did quite richly for my purposes).
And what I said about 'we all love it' referred only to BTers and other balletomanes, the 'to some degree' definitely including me quite obviously, since I'm the one who is 'shocking' for not having seen it but twice live and not planning to go back anytime soon.
I am sometimes skeptical that more than a very few people going to see Nutcracker ever experience it as any kind of gateway ballet, leading them to attend other ballets: it's a holiday tradition, which is a different thing. They go back to Nutcracker the next year.
That happens to be the whole point. I know of such people, and it does not occur with any other ballet, any single opera, any symphony, any novel, any piece of classical music, or any other kind of artwork. There are not vast numbers of people who go to see 'Swan Lake' and never any other ballet. In that sense 'Davidsbundlertanze' and 'Swan Lake' and 'Giselle' and 'Theme and Variations' and 'Chaconne' and 'Songs of the Auvergne' and 'Namouna' are all in one of two categories, and the Nutcracker inhabits the only other category BY ITSELF. Therefore it is reasonable to get some sharply critical response (anew) to the work itself. I obviously don't think all that much of it, and I only started the first post by saying that it was 'the greatest' in terms of power of a certain sort. And as a 'moneymaker', it far outstrips SL or SB. This does not make the work the 'greatest work of art', but some may have the impression that it is, and while 'moneymaking' may seem crass, it is also a fact, and something that is worthy of intellectual questioning, as in any other endeavour. Anyway, thanks for telling us your experience with Nutcracker.