I am 8 years old and have been dancing in The Nutcracker since my first pink tutu. Some of my little friends say Tchaikovsky is passé and musicology is disinterested in ballet. Papa says, "If you see it in "Dear Abbé, it's so." Please tell me the truth: what was the Nutcracker like in the Olden Days?
115 West Ninety Fifth Street
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. Yes, Virginia, pink tutus and dancing mice are still fancied by children everywhere. I asked the guy who wrote the book, Roland John Wiley, to answer your question.
Kellemes karácsonyi ünnepeket / Fröhliche Weinachten / Buon Natal.
Prof. Wiley writes:
St. Petersburg, 1892
Different then was how the ballet was presented and received. It was not the sole entertainment of an evening, but came after a complete opera. In the early days that opera was Tchaikovsky’s last, Iolanta, it and The Nutcracker commissioned to be performed together, imitating the practice of Parisian theatres to combine opera and ballet on the same program. Then too, whereas we think of Nutcracker as a Christmas piece, in Russia it was performed any time during the theatre season, from September to April.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about the first Nutcracker was that it wasn’t very well-received, and has never been much performed in Russia, at least compared with the institutional stature it enjoys in the west, staged wherever minimal artistic forces can be mustered to make it go. While Tchaikovsky’s music largely escaped critique, the ballet itself came under fire.
Roland John Wiley is professor emeritus of musicology at the University of Michigan. He is author of Tchaikovsky's Ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty Nucracker (Oxford UP, 1991) and the new Master Musicians life-and-works Tchaikovsky (Oxford UP, 2009). As it happens, his granddaughters make their balletic debut this season as mice in . . . need we continue?