Libretto of the 1895 production, as translated by Prof. Roland John Wiley
Scene 1 – A park before a castle
Benno and his comrades are waiting for Prince Siegfried, in order to celebrate merrily his coming of age. Prince Siegfried enters, accompanied by Wolfgang. The feast begins. Peasant girls and young men arrive to congratulate the Prince, who directs the men to help themselves to wine, and gives ribbons to the girls. The slightly drunk Wolfgang sees to the execution of his student’s order. Dances of the peasants.
Servants run in and announce the arrival of the Princess-Mother. This news upsets the general merriment. The dances are stopped, servants hurry to remove the tables and to conceal the traces of festivity. The young men and Wolfgang feign abstinence. The Princess enters, preceded by her retinue; Siegfried goes to meet his mother, greeting her deferentially. She tenderly reproaches him for trying to deceive her, for she well knows that he is celebrating now, and she came not to keep from festivities with his circle of friends, but to remind him that the last day of his bachelorhood has begun, and that tomorrow he must be married. To the question: who is the bride? the Princess answers that this will be decided at a ball the next day, to which she has summoned all the young girls worthy of becoming her daughter and his wife. He himself will select the one that please him most.
Having decided to let the interrupted party continue, the Princess departs.
The Prince is pensive; giving up his free and easy bachelor’s life saddens him. Benno persuades him that a concern for the future does not make for a very agreeable present. Siegfried gives a sign for the resumption of the festivities. The celebration and dancing are renewed. Wolfgang, completely drunk, makes everybody laugh at his participation in the dances.
Night is beginning to fall. One more farewell dance and it is time to disperse. Dance with cups.
A band of swans flies over. The young men are not yet asleep. The sight of the swans makes them think of ending this day with a hunt. Benno knows where the swans fly at night. Having left behind the drunken Wolfgang, Siegfried and the young men depart.
A rocky, wild place. In the depth of the stage a lake. At the right, on the shore, the ruin of a chapel. A moonlit night.
A band of white swans swims around the lake. In front, a swan with a crown on its head.
Benno enters with several friends from the Prince’s retinue. Having noticed the swans they prepare to fire at them, but the swans swim away. Benno, having sent his companions to inform the Prince that they found the flock, remains alone. The swans, transformed into beautiful young girls, surround Benno, who is staggered by the magic phenomenon and is powerless against their charms. His companions return ahead of the Prince. At their arrival the swans fall back. The youths are about to shoot them. The Prince enters and is also taking aim, but at this moment the ruins are illuminated by a magic light and Odette appears, pleading for mercy.
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 the evil genie appears in the ruins; having listened to the conversation, it disappears. Horror takes hold of Siegfried 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.
Odette calls her friends and with them attempts to divert him with dances. Siegfried is all the more enchanted by Princess Odette’s beauty and offers to rescue her from the owl’s magic. He will kill him and free Odette. The latter answers that this is impossible. The destroyer of the evil genie will come only at that moment when some infatuated man sacrifices himself out of love for Odette. Siegfried is ready to do this also; for her sake he would be glad to die. Odette believes in his love, believes that he never vowed his love to someone else. But tomorrow is the day when a whole throng of beautiful girls will come to his mother’s court, and he will be obliged to choose one of them for his bride. Siegfried says that he will be married only when she, Odette, appears at the ball. The unhappy girl answers that this is impossible because at that time she can only fly around the castle in the form of a swan. The Prince vows never to betray her. Odette, moved by the youth’s love, accepts his vow but warns that the evil genie will do everything to make him swear fidelity to another. Siegfried still promises that no magic will take Odette away from him.
Dawn is breaking. Odette takes leave of her beloved, and with her friends disappears into the ruins. The dawn’s light brightens. On the lake again swims out a flock of swans, and above them, waving its wings heavily, flies a large owl.
A magnificent hall. Everything is prepared for the feast.
The master of ceremonies gives last minute orders to the servants. He meets and places the arriving guests. The entrance of the Princess and Siegfried in the vanguard of the court. Procession of the brides and their parents. General dance. Waltz of the Prospective Fiancées (val’s nevest).
The Princess-mother asks her son which of the young girls most please him. Siegfried finds them all delightful, but does not see any to whom he could swear eternal love.
Trumpets announce the arrival of new guests. Von Rothbart enters with his daughter Odile. Siegfried is astonished by her likeness to Odette and greets her enthusiastically. Odette, in the form of a swan, appears at the window, warning her loved one of the evil genie’s magic. But he, captivated by the beauty of the new guest, neither sees nor hears anything but her. The dances begin anew.
Siegfried’s choice is made. Confident that Odile and Odette are one and the same, he chooses her as his bride. Von Rothbart triumphantly takes the hand of his daughter and gives it to the young man, who in the presence of everyone pronounces a vow of eternal love.
At this moment Siegfried sees Odette in the window. He understands that he has become the victim of deception, but it is already too late; the vow is pronounced, Rothbart and Odile disappear. Odette forever must remain in the power of the genie, who in the form of an owl appears above her in the window. In a burst of despair the unhappy Prince flees. General confusion.
A deserted place near the swan lake. In the distance the magic ruins. Cliffs. Night.
Swans in the form of girls anxiously await Odette’s return. In order to shorten the time of restlessness and anguish, they try to divert themselves with dances.
Odette rushes in. The swans greet her joyfully, but despair overcomes them when they learn of Siegfried’s betrayal. All is ended, the evil genie triumphed and there is no deliverance for the unfortunate Odette: she is condemned to be the slave of the evil spells forever. It would be better, while still in the form of a girl, to perish in the waves of the lake than to live without Siegfried. Her friends try in vain to console her.
Siegfried runs in. He is searching for Odette in order to fall at her feet and beg forgiveness for his unintended betrayal. He loves her alone and made his vow of fidelity to Odile only because he saw Odette in her. Odette, at the sight of her beloved, forgets her sorrow and both give themselves to the joy of meeting.
The appearance of the evil genie interrupts the momentary enchantment. Siegfried must fulfil his vow and marry Odile, and Odette with the coming of dawn will forever be changed into a swan. Better to die while there is time. Siegfried vows to die with her. In terror the evil genie disappears. Death out of love for Odette is his destruction. The unhappy girl, having embraced Siegfried for the last time, runs to the cliff to throw herself from its height. The evil genie in the form of an owl hovers over her in order to change her into a swan. Siegfried rushes to Odette’s assistance and together with her throws himself into the lake. The owl falls, dead.
Résumé of scenes and dances of the 1895 revival:
Act 1, scene 1
No. 1 Scène première et entrée du Prince Siegfried
No. 2 Pas de trois
- (a) Entrée
- (b) Variation I
- (c) Variation II
- (d) Variation III
- (e) Coda
No. 3 Scène
No. 4 Valse Champêtre
No. 5 Scène d’action
No. 6 Introduction to the Danse au cliquetis de verres (Sujet)
No. 7 Danse au cliquetis de verres
No. 8 Départ du Prince Siegfried et des chasseurs
No. 9 Scène
No. 10 Scène dansante et entrée d’Odette
No. 11 Entrée des les cygnes
No. 12 Grand Pas des cygnes
- (a) Valse des cygnes
- (b) Grand Pas d’action
- (c) Danse des petits cygnes
- (d) Danse des grands cygnes
- (e) Variation d’Odette
- (f) Coda Générale
No. 13 Scène et final
No. 14 Grand Marche
No. 15 Valse des Fiancées
No. 16 Scène et entrée d’Odile
No. 17 Grand Divertissement
- (a) Danse éspagnole
- (b) Danse napolitaine
- (c) Czardas
- (d) Mazurka
No. 18 Grand Pas de deux
- (a) Entrée
- (b) Grand Andante
- (c) Variation du Prince Siegfried (Variation pour Mon. Alexander Gorsky)
- Interpolation – Variation d’Odile (Variation pour Mlle. Pierina Legnani: orch. by Riccardo Drigo from Tchaikovsky’s Op. 72 for Piano – No. 12 “L’Espiègle)
- (d) Coda
No. 19 Scène et finale
No. 20 Entr’acte
Interpolation – Valse des cygnes blanche et noir (orch. by Drigo from Tchaikovsky’s Op. 72 for Piano – No. 11 Valse Bluette)
No. 21 Scène
Interpolation – Scène dansante (orch. by Drigo from Tchaikovsky’s Op. 72 for Piano – No. 15 “Un poco di Chopin)
No. 22 Scène et finale. Apothéose
- Wiley, Roland John (1985) Tchaikovsky’s Ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press