On December 18th 1892 at Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky theatre there took place the première of a double bill, one of whose items will go down in musical history as perhaps the most magical, beautiful, enticing and enchanting ballet score ever written.
Tchaikovsky received a commission from choreographer Petipa with precise instructions as to how long each dance piece should be right down to the numbers of bars they should contain. The composer at first wasn’t too convinced by the Hoffman scenario although he later started to enjoy writing the commission. Imagine his disappointment then when the ballet turned out to be a flop.
(Petipa and Tchaikovsky)
The opera fared rather better but who today remembers ‘Iolanta’ and who today can say they know nothing about the ‘Nutcracker’? They must at least remember this take from the immortal ballet, as sung by the much lamented Frank Muir:
Today the ‘Nutcracker’ is almost a definition of classical ballet and we are truly showered with Nutcrackers in Lucca this year. Not only did I attend the marvellous Moscow Ballet production at Lucca’s Giglio theatre last Tuesday but I’ll be able to return to the city to hear a live relay from Covent Garden with the Royal Ballet at Lucca’s Cinema Centrale near Puccini’s statue in Piazza della Cittadella. It’s on today. Thursday 8th December at 8.15 PM and it’s the impeccable Peter Wright production too!
Of course, there are umpteen versions and variations of the ‘Nutcracker’ and each ballet company does their own take. It wasn’t surprising that for their one night at Lucca the Moscow ballet relied on a recording of the music. There just wouldn’t have been time to arrange a live orchestra to interpret the timings and sequences of the company. There is no resident ballet company, unfortunately, in Lucca as there is, for example, in London and no orchestra to practise with them.
As mentioned, one doesn’t have to travel to Covent Garden any more (although it does help). The following live ROH performances have been (or are being) relayed to Lucca’s Cinema Centrale. Just look at the list at
For the ‘Nutcracker’ and all these other superlative performances you don’t even have to be in Lucca. Look at this list for other Italian cities with ROH relays:
The Moscow ballet production was delicate, humorous and very athletic. There were some spectacular poissons and fouettes, especially in the second act where the pas de deux was most passionately done.
Who could not fall in love with a ballet that includes romance, dreams and fantastic visions such as described in Hoffman’s original story. What a wonderful start to the Christmas season with a ballet that includes everything from gingerbread soldiers, a battle with evil mice, sweets in profusion, snowfalls, dancing flowers, a prince charming and a bewitching fairy. It truly puts one in the mood for the festive season like no other piece ever possibly could. And here is ravishing music written by a composer who just less than one year later died mysteriously, (some say by suicide over his ‘shame’ at his sexuality but the matter has never been properly cleared up).
My tickets were a little Italian reward from the work I put in the English editorship part and my articles in the monthly on-line review of music in and around Lucca which you can find at:
I just can’t believe that I felt bored as an eight -year old when I saw my first performance of the Nutcracker at the Royal Festival Hall in London. (I don’t know if they still put it on there). I was even more scathing about Tchaikovsky for years. I now consider him the most ‘Russian’ of all Russian composers and the writer of some of the greatest melodies ever to seduce the human ear. Furthermore, I regard Tchaikovsky as a brilliant orchestrator (an art never seen to better effect in the ‘Nutcracker’ when the introduction of the celesta must have truly been a startling novelty) and a supreme operatic composer (if only they could put on ‘Eugene Onegin’ in Italy – I’d travel miles to hear it again.)
One thing is certain: we departed from the Giglio Theatre and entered Lucca’s Piazza Grande at midnight, our hearts filled with happiness and joy. The Christmas season had truly begun for us!
Ps more on the nutcracker at