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Why is Rothbart turning maidens into swans?


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#16 Ellis

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 10:44 AM

I just thought of this. There is also the Irish legend, The Children of Lir, who were also turned into swans.

#17 BethJ

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 04:56 PM

Does anybody know the date that Swan Lake premeired? It is a Petipa ballet correct? That would place it at the late 1800s. So Mel's earlier statement: "that the swan was very popular as a design motif in the 1875-1885 era in Russia, largely as a tribute to Ludwig's championship of absolutism!" Would probably explain why the princess and the maidens were turned into swans in the first place. It simply was a very trendy animal at that time period...
Any thoughts on this?

Beth

#18 Mel Johnson

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 05:20 PM

The original production premiered at the Bolshoi Theater in 1877. The version we're used to was presented in 1895 as a complete version with musical edits and interpolations by Riccardo Drigo, and the choreography split between Marius Petipa and his assistant, Lev Ivanov. If you go to the Ballet Alert! homepage and click the link to "Ballets", and select 19th century ballets, there's a whole THING in there about Swan Lake.

#19 Xena

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 06:04 PM

If I may just add a bit..I found this and thought it was quit einteresting and may answer the question as to why swans....

".. It is highly likely that Tchaikovsky had a good deal of influence over the story’s
development.
Legends of swans were presumably familiar to Tchaikovsky and his artistic friends, who no doubt discussed the idea of the swan as a symbol of womanhood at its purest.
The legend of the Swan-Maiden goes back for centuries, appearing in differing forms in both eastern and western literature. Women who turn into birds and vice versa were popular themes, and the swan was particularly favored due to its grace when swimming in the water. The ancient Greeks considered the swan to the bird closest to the Muses. When Apollo was born at Delos, the event was celebrated by flights of circling swans.

The Tales of the Thousand and One Nights tells the story of Hassan of Bassorah, who visits a place inhabited by bird-maidens. When they take off their feather garments, the bird-maidens are transformed into beautiful women. Hassan captures the clothes of one of the maidens in order to keep her in human form as his wife. She is able to regain her feathers and flies away from him. Hassan sets out on a quest to regain his wife and after many adventures succeeds in finding her.

Sweet Mikhail Ivanovich the Rover is a Slav tale that begins with Mikhail the Rover who is about to shoot a swan that warns him "Shoot not, else ill-fortune will doom thee for evermore!" On landing the swan turns into a beautiful maiden. When Mikhail tries to kiss her she warns that she is an infidel. However, if he takes her to the holy city of Kiev, then she might be received by the church and thus free to marry him. So they set out.
In a similar South German legend a swan speaks to a forester who is about to kill her. The beautiful maiden in this case says that she would be his if he could keep her existence a secret for one year. He fails and thus looses her.

Celtic folk-lore brings us The Legend of the Children of Lir. When King Lir’s first wife dies, he marries a wicked woman Arife. Jealous of Lir’s children from his first wife, Arife turns them all into swans.

The complete scenario of Swan Lake is not to be found in any of these legends, but many parallels do exist. Other possible sources of inspiration could have
been Johann Karl August Musäus’ Der geraubte Schleier, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans and Alexandre Pushkin’s Tzar Saltan, the story of a prince who saves the life of a wounded swan who later reappears as a woman to marry him. There are also elements of the story that are traditional in many ballets. One cannot discount the influence, at least on Tchaikovsky, of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, the story of an heroic Swan Prince, a man with a mysterious past who arrives on a magical swan-boat. ..."


Go to [url="http://"http://www.balletmet.org/balletnotes.html"]http://www.balletmet.org/balletnotes.html[/url]

for an extensive essay on Swan Lake! Happy reading.

[ 08-20-2001: Message edited by: Xena ]

#20 Ellis

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Posted 20 August 2001 - 08:04 PM

The Children of lir story is correct, except that King Lir married his first wife Eva's sister. Her name was Aoife (not Arife) and they were said to look exactly the same, but one was light of heart and the second dark of heart. Kind of like the black and white swans :)

#21 Mel Johnson

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Posted 28 August 2001 - 06:45 AM

Further on Tchaikovsky's choice of swans - he already had a little bit of material "in the can", as he had composed a one-act "Ballet of the Swans" for his sister's children. His original contract called for him to supply music to a version of Cinderella, but this plan fell through.

#22 Paquita

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Posted 29 August 2001 - 07:14 PM

Emily's post has an interesting idea. It really reminded me of the movie "The Last Unicorn". There's an old man who keeps all the unicorns prisoners in the sea so that he can watch them all day. But I don't think that in the ballet, the idea of Rothbart being a nice guy ( or having a heart at all, for that matter) is supposed to ever cross our minds. He is most often portrayed as pure evil and darkness ( even though there is no such thing). I guess those psychological problems of his run pretty deep!

#23 rg

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Posted 30 August 2001 - 01:35 AM

FYI: when trying to sort through the characters and motivations of "Swan Lake" it might be useful to refer to the original, 1877 libretto as well as that for the revised scenario of ‘95. Note that originally the swan transformations were a form of self-protection. Also note how originally it was Odette's grandFATHER's tears that formed the lake of the swans, not her mother's, etc. etc. Unfortunately the ‘95 libretto does not spell out the particulars of Odette's mime. (Though I suppose it may be written in the Stepanov notation, which Doug Fullington might be able to provide.) But it would seem that in the re-written scenario, the evil stepmother becomes the genie (Rothbart) and that the grieving grandfather becomes, perhaps, Odette's mother, whose tears, Odette's pantomime now-traditionally tells us, created the lake of the swans. And in the revised version the bewitchment is no longer a means of self-protection but a sinister spell.
The following is from the 1877 libretto of ‘Swan Lake' i.e. "Lebedinoe ozero" with regard to the bewitchment of Odette into her swan form, from Roland John Wiley's "Tchaikovsky's Ballets" (p. 323 -324)
"[Odette's narrative.]
‘Yes Listen...My name is Odette, my mother is a good fairy; against her father's will she fell in love with a noble knight and married him, but he destroyed her, and she was no more. My father married another, forgot about me, but my wicked stepmother, who was a witch, hated me and nearly killed me. But my grandfather took me in. The old man loved my mother very much and cried so about her that from his tears this lake was formed. He himself went to a place there in the deepest part and concealed me from people. Now, not long ago he began to indulge me, and is giving me full freedom to make merry. Thus by day with my friends we transform ourselves into swans, and merrily fly through the air, high, almost to heaven itself; and by night we play and dance here near our dear little old man. But my stepmother even now leaves neither me nor my friends in piece.'
At this moment the sound of an owl rings out.
‘Did you hear?...This is her ominous voice,' says Odette, looking around alarmed. ‘Look, there she is!'
In the runs appears a huge owl with eyes lit-up. [The appearance of an owl.]
‘She would have destroyed me long ago,' Odette continues. ‘But grandfather follows her vigilantly, and keeps me from harm. With my marriage the witch loses her chance to injure me, but until then only this crown saves me from her wickedness. [Odette: ‘with my marriage, etc.] And that is all, my story is not long.'"
Of the revisions made by Modeste Tchaikovsky for the 1895 production Wiley states thus (p. 248):
"Modeste substantially recast Act II. Siegfried has been separated from the other hunters when the latter discover the swans. Benno sends the rest to find the Prince, and then is accosted by the swan maidens. Apart from this scene, which is incidental to the main story line, Modeste clarified and abbreviated. Odette no longer has to mime a complicated family history: she and her friends are enchanted by an evil genie who may appear either in the form of an owl or a human. But the conditions of her release are different and more complex: instead of marriage a pledge of eternal love is required, from someone who has never pledged it to another, plus the sacrifice ofhis life. Odette warns Siegfried of the dangers that await him at the Princess's ball, and this predictive element, thanks to the reduction in unnecessary detail in the act as a whole, emerges more clearly now than it had in the original."

The Third Tableau from the ‘95 scenario as published in Wiley, pp. 338 -39:
"Siegfried, struck by her beauty, forbids his comrades to shoot. She expresses her thanks to him and explains that she, Princess Odette, and the young girls subject to her are the unhappy victims of a wicked genie who bewitched them. By day they are condemned to take the form of swans and only at night, near these ruins, can they regain their human form. Their master, in the form of an owl, watches over them. His dreadful spell will continue until somebody falls truly in love with her, for life. Only a person who has not sworn his love to any other can be her deliverer and return her to her previous state. Siegfried, enchanted, listens to Odette. At this moment an owl flies in, and having transformed itself into an evil genie appears in the ruins, having listened to the conversation, it disappears. Horror strikes hold of Siegfreid at the thought that he could have killed Odette when she was in the form of a swan. He breaks his bow and throws it away in indignation. Odette consoles the young Prince."

#24 Mel Johnson

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Posted 30 August 2001 - 06:40 AM

Thanks, rg, and welcome to Ballet Talk.

Re: Begichev's and Geltser's 1877 mime - too many mothers-in-law. ;)

#25 Alexandra

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Posted 30 August 2001 - 08:15 AM

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to post that, rg -- and thank you for joining us :)

I'm still unclear on one point. You wrote: "And in the revised version the bewitchment is no longer a means of self-protection but a sinister spell."

But Odette does mime "mother's tears" formed the lake, doesn't she? I've always thought, as Mel implies, that "mother" was easier to do in mime than "grandfather," hence the switch.

#26 rg

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Posted 30 August 2001 - 08:33 AM

firstly, apologies for neglecting to see that Jane Simpson had already made the original libretto's points w/regard to Odette's grandfather, etc. etc.
secondly, to alexandra re: my point about the differences between the 1877 and the 1895 librettos, was given to note how in '77 the transformation was not a wicked deed but a useful, magical way for Odette and her friends to have some freedom from her stepmother's evil designs (her mother after all was a good fairy, and so i suppose Odette had inherited some magic powers). with modeste's re-write the transformation of the women into swans becomes a sinister way for the evil genie to control Odette and her band to his satisfaction. the point about 'my mother's tears' is certainly in recent (early-mid-20th c.) lore, and is there whenever the mime is performed nowadays, i just wonder what precisely that 'narrative' was in '95. maybe the stepanov spells it out, the way the '77 scenario specifically states: Odette's Narrative. (the '95 scenario does not fully give, at least in the version given in wiley, any mention of 'my mother's tears, etc. etc.'
but perhaps beaumont does, which i'm not looking at right now.

#27 doug

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Posted 30 August 2001 - 10:24 AM

rg, I don't have the Stepanov SWAN LAKE on hand, but Wiley offers a translation of the prose given in the notations on pp. 262-3 of TCHAIKOVSKY'S BALLETS:
Prince: I beg you not to go away. I beg you. I beg you.
Odette: I am afraid of you.
Prince: Why?
Odette: You will kill me with your crossbow.
Prince: I will not shoot you, but will protect you.
[She bows to him, then evades him, etc.]
Prince: What are you doing here?
Odette: I am the queen of the swans.
Prince: I bow to you, but why are you a swan?
Odette: Look there. There is a lake. My mother cried and cried. An evil magician turned me into a swan, but if someone falls in love with me and marries me, then I am saved and will not be a swan.
Prince: I love you and will marry you, but show me where this genie is.
Odette: He is there.
Prince: I will kill him.
The mime is written in prose using the characteristic short phrases that suggest a fairly literal prose 'translation' of what was actually mimed, as opposed to what might be printed in the libretto.

#28 Jane Simpson

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Posted 30 August 2001 - 10:33 AM

No, Beaumont's version of the 1895 scenario (or at least what he calls 'The Book of Swan Lake adapted by Marius Petipa') has nothing about the lake of tears - Odette just tells how Rothbart has bewitched her.

In passing, I notice that in this version the scene actually starts with the entrance of the swan maidens, and Siegfried, Benno and the huntsmen are about to shoot them when Odette enters for the first time - was it actually choreographed like that originally, I wonder?

#29 Alexandra

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Posted 30 August 2001 - 10:51 AM

Doug, are we to think, then, that Von R turned Odette and her friends into Swans, and then her thoughtful mother cried a lake for her to swim in?

#30 Giannina

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Posted 30 August 2001 - 12:20 PM

Moms!

Giannina


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