Ballet fantastique in three acts and five scenes
Music by Ludwig Minkus
Libretto by Marius Petipa
Décor by Matvei Shishkov (Act 1), Heinrich Wagner (Act 2) and Mikhail Bocharov (Act 3)
Costumes by Adolph Charlemagne
19th January [O.S. 7th January] 1879
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, Saint Petersburg
Original 1879 Cast
The Daughter of the Snows
The Spirit of the Cold
The Goddess of Summer
The Rich Norwegian
The Captain’s fiancée
The Old Sailor
The Old Sailor’s Son
A vessel heading to the North Pole has become trapped by the Spirit of the Cold. He lures the travellers into his kingdom, where the ship’s captain falls in love with the Daughter of the Snows. She is, however, as cold as ice and pays no heed to his declarations of love. When the captain comes to his sense, he remembers his ship and his bride and he and his crew strive to return home, but snow and all manner of obstacles hinder them. To save the crew, the captain sacrifices himself to the Spirit of the Cold and finds himself again in the power of the Daughter of the Snows. The heavens clear, the goddess of summer and love approaches the captain and warms him. Winter becomes summer and the Daughter of the Snows becomes a snowdrop. But the Spirit of the Cold reappears and snow, ice and gloom return. The captain falls lifeless to the ground; the Daughter of the Snows has been his undoing.
The Daughter of the Snows was inspired by the classic Russian fairy tale The Snow Maiden. A popular tale and character, the Snow Maiden, also known as Snegurochka, first appeared in Russian folklore in the 19th century. A famous version of the story was published in ethnographer Alexander Afanasyev’s The Poetic Outlook of Nature by the Slavs in 1869. In this version, a childless couple, who long for a child, build one out of snow and she comes to life. They adopt her as their daughter and she quickly grows up into a beautiful girl, winning the hearts of all the villagers. One day, she goes with other girls from the village into the woods. They light a small fire and take turns in leaping over it, but when the Snow Maiden leaps over it, she evaporates into a cloud and ascends into Heaven. In a second famous version, the Snow Maiden is the daughter of Father Frost and Mother Spring and becomes attached to a young shepherd named Lel, but is unable to know love. Taking pity on her daughter, Mother Spring gives Snegurochka this ability and she falls in love with Lel, but her new ability causes her heart to warm and she melts.
The story of Snegurochka has since been adapted multiple times; the second version of the story was famously adapted by Alexander Ostrovsky for his 1873 play The Snow Maiden, for which Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed incidental music. The story was also adapted by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov into his 1880-81 opera The Snow Maiden: A Spring Fairy Tale, the libretto of which is also based on Ostrovsky’s play.
For Petipa and Minkus’s ballet adaptation of The Snow Maiden, however, there was a second source of inspiration. This second source was the enthusiasm that greeted the Finnish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskjöld’s Arctic expedition of 1878-79, which opened the North-East passage and was a major development for Russia, both politically and economically. With the two sources, Petipa and Minkus presented a story that was vastly different from the original fairy tale under a new title. Rather than being set in Russia, The Daughter of the Snows was set in Norway and the North Pole and featured brand new characters. Taking inspiration from Scandinavian folklore and legends, the ballet contained Scandinavian dances in the first act – Celtringers, the dance of the Northern Gypsies; Norwegian wedding dance. The second act, in which the ship crew have been lured into the Land of the Snows, contained the Dance of the Migratory Birds, the appearance of the Daughter of the Snows in an adage and a Dance of the Snowflakes. The third act was devoted to Love and Rebirth, with dances for the flowers.
The Daughter of the Snows was premièred on the 19th January [O.S. 7th January] 1879 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre. The ballet was met with a muted reception and was staged again on the 28th January as a benefit for Petipa when he was presented with a silver tankard and tray. However, The Daughter of the Snows did not last long in the repertoire and fell into obscurity following its removal.
Ekaterina Vazem’s performance in the title role was a success in its own right, but it was not enough to save the ballet. Vazem herself did not think highly of The Daughter of the Snows, as proven by the following account in her memoirs:
The next ballet Petipa produced for me was first performed at my benefit at the beginning of 1879. It was called The Daughter of the Snows and as I have indicated it must be counted among Petipa’s unsuccessful works. With the public, at least, it had success. I appeared on stage only in the second and third acts, which were devoted to classical dances; the first was filled with character dances of the northern peoples. Now I positively cannot remember the ballerina’s dances – they probably did not amount to much. At the end of the ballet, [Pavel] Gerdt, as the captain of the icebound vessel, and I and others played out a scene of ‘love and rebirth’, but of what it consisted I cannot now say. The Daughter of the Snows did not hold the stage for long, and was taken out of the repertoire.
Despite the ballet’s failure, however, The Daughter of the Snows continued the way for snow scenes in Petipa’s ballets, which had been previously seen in La Camargo with the winter divertissement and would be seen again in The Nutcracker with the Waltz of the Snowflakes, choreographed by Lev Ivanov.
- Letellier, Robert Ignatius (2008) The Ballets of Ludwig Minkus. Cambridge Scholars Publishing
- Wiley, Roland John (2007) A Century of Russian Ballet. Alton, Hampshire, UK: Dance Books Ltd
Photos and images: © Dansmuseet, Stockholm © Большой театр России © Victoria and Albert Museum, London © Государственный академический Мариинский театр © CNCS/Pascal François © Bibliothèque nationale de France © Musée l’Opéra © Colette Masson/Roger-Viollet © АРБ имени А. Я. Вагановой © Михаил Логвинов © Михайловский театр, фотограф Стас Левшин. Партнёры проекта: СПбГБУК «Санкт-Петербургская государственная Театральная библиотека». ФГБОУВО «Академия русского балета имени А. Я. Вагановой» СПбГБУК «Михайловский театр». Михаил Логвинов, фотограф. Martine Kahane.