Ballet fantastique in four acts and six scenes
Music by Ludwig Minkus
14th December [O.S. 2nd December] 1879
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, Saint Petersburg
Original 1879 Cast
Mstivoi, Prince of Ratarskii
Première of Petipa’s revival
7th October [O.S. 25th September] 1896
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre
Original 1896 Cast
Iaromir, Prince of Arkona
Mstivoi, Prince of Ratarskii
Princess Voislava, daughter of Prince Mstivoi, is madly in love with Iaromir, Prince of Arkona. To gain his heart, she has poisoned Iaromir’s beloved, Princess Mlada and is seeking the protection of the goddess Marena, Queen of the Underworld. At the goddess’s request, Chernobog, the supreme god of all evil spirits, tempts Iaromir’s soul with the shade of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. If she can conquer the Prince, he will forget Mlada. Iaromir’s soul vacillates, but the crowing of a cockerel dispels the evil spirits. Iaromir awakens in confusion. In order to understand the meaning of his dream, he remains in the temple of the sun-god Radegast. That night, Iaromir hears the voices of ancestors calling for vengeance. Voislava appears and confesses her crime. Obeying the ancestors, Iaromir kills her. In response, Marena summons a storm and earthquake. The temple collapses, the lake bursts its banks and everything is hidden in clouds. When the clouds disperse, a rock is visible in the middle of the swollen lake and on it are the shades of Iaromir and Mlada, who are welcomed by the benevolent gods.
Mlada did not originally begin as a joint creation between Petipa and Ludwig Minkus. When Minkus was appointed Ballet Composer of the Imperial Theatres in 1872, he was commissioned by the Director, Stephan Gedeonov to compose the ballet music for an opera that was to be jointly composed by “The Might Handful” of Russian composers – Alexander Borodin, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. However, the ballet-opera was aborted, despite the fact that the music had, for the most part, been completed and each of the composers used their own materials for different works. Minkus revised and expanded his own material for the ballet-opera project into an independent full-length ballet. The libretto was based on Gedeonov’s original text for the opera project with edits by Petipa.
In certain respects, Mlada was a follower to La Bayadère, with its tragic love story of the main heroine murdered by her rival and returning as a ghost to haunt her beloved until they are reunited in death after the temple is destroyed by gods. With Petipa as choreographer, Mlada was created for the benefit performance of Eugenia Sokolova and made its première on the 14th December [O.S. 2nd December] 1879 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in Saint Petersburg. However, the ballet was not an entire success, though there is no apparent criticism to the work. According to Vera Krasovskaya, Mlada only had moderate success with its classical dances, while the national dances were praised. These included a Redowa, a Wheel Dance, Czech and Lithuanian dances. In her memoirs, Ekaterina Vazem describes a very negative public reaction to the “boring Old Slavic Dances” and the “rather monotonous classicality” of the ballet. The fact that no printed form of the score came into existence underlined the ballet’s lack of success and Mlada was withdrawn from the Imperial Ballet repertoire only a season after its première.
In 1896, Mlada reappeared in the Imperial Ballet repertoire when Matilda Kschessinskaya appealed to Tsar Nicholas II for the ballet to be revived. Four years earlier, Rimsky-Korsakov had completed his opera Mlada to the same 1872 libretto. The opera premiered in 1892 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, but was not a success and did not last long in the Imperial Opera repertoire. The décor, however, was reused for Petipa’s 1896 revival, in which the ballet was heavily revived. Numerous changes were made to the action, which can be traced to Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, and the ballet was staged in four acts and six scenes rather than four acts and nine scenes, as it had been in 1879. Petipa’s revival of Mlada was premiered at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre on the 7th October [25th September] 1896, with Kschessinska in the title role. The revival proved to be more successful than the original 1879 production.
- Letellier, Robert Ignatius (2008) The Ballets of Ludwig Minkus. Cambridge Scholars Publishing
- Kschessinskaya, Matilda, H.S.H. The Princess Romanovsky-Krassinsky (1960) Dancing in Petersburg: The Memoirs of Mathilde Kschessinskaya. Alton, Hampshire: Dance Books Ltd