There are few ballets that capture the spirit of the festive season like The Nutcracker. Generations have been enchanted by the characters of the lifesize nutcracker, the sugar plum fairy and the dancing Russian candy canes. In the poignant words of author Megan Abbot. “Every year, when the grand -pas de deux- -- the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince -- begins, the audience's eyes fill with tears. Those shimmering sounds of the celesta, like bells clear and pure, and we are flung backward. Time is conquered for a brief, luminous moment.”
The fairytale ballet was commissioned 130 years ago by the director of Moscow’s Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, in 1891, with its premiere a week before Christmas 1892 to audiences glittering with the jewels of pre-revolutionary Russia. Arriving in England in 1934 and performed by the Vic-Wells Ballet (which would become the Royal Ballet), the show then arrived in the States two decades later when it finally achieved international fame. Tchaikovsky’s now instantly-recognisable score has come to conjure up a Christmas atmosphere wherever it is played. It has been called ‘abundant and perfect’ by critics. First written as a short story in 1816 by ET Hoffman under the title ‘The Nutcracker and The Mouse King’, the tale was adapted by Alexandre Dumas (yes, of The Three Musketeers) in 1844. This was the version performed in Russia nearly a century after it was first penned.
Delving into the mysterious goings-on at a family’s Christmas Eve celebration, it is interesting that the most popular festive cultural performance of all time has nothing to do with the nativity. Instead, the plot, which, according to Where the Wild Things Are author, Maurice Sendak, “is rare and genuine and does justice to the private world of children.”, centres around A German girl, Clara, and her enchanting toys who come to life after dark. The mystery begins in Act One when Uncle Drosselmeyer visits the family, Clara, her brother Edward and sister Louise, with a box from the Far East with two sets of life-sized dancing dolls and a strange wooden dancing doll. The intrigue builds when it is revealed this strange doll can crack nuts. Jealous Edward breaks the doll who lies in pieces on the floor. Fortunately the uncle manages to repair the toy soldier and they all retire to bed, except the uncle who casts a spell on the assembled toys. Creeping downstairs, Clara soon witnesses a surreal and unforgettable tableau of dancing, battles, and characters among the come-to-life toys. The Mouse King declares war on the Nutcracker Prince who musters an army and, aided by Clara’s distracting of The Mouse King, wins. Transformed into a handsome prince, he and Clara are suddenly seen in a snow-white setting with dancing snow maiden twirling around them. Soon, beautiful Arabian Princesses, Russian Cossacks, French ballet dancers and even exotic flowers are gliding across the stage. Clara begins to dance herself and is transported (along with us) by the most fairytale of all dances by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Awaking in her father’s arms, she is not sure if it was all a dream. Thus the stage is set for the most magical and enduring of Christmas ballets.
Experience the enchantment in full by watching the ballet in an authentic Russian setting while staying at the beautiful Hotel Astoria in the heart of St Petersburg. There is nothing like watching this iconic ballet at the setting in which it premiered nearly a century ago. Another astonishing setting is the intimate atmosphere of The Hermitage Theatre. Formerly an imperial palace theatre and richly decorated, it is probably the best place to see The Nutcracker in the city. Performed with a symphony orchestra with the original classical choreography preserved and costumes that mirror those of pre-revolutionary Russia.
From the “Children’s Gallop and Entry of the Parents” to the “Waltz of the Flowers”, let the musical tableaux of The Nutcracker be the soundtrack to an unforgettable festive night in Rome at the stunningly beautiful Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. Take your family to the Eternal City for a Christmas escape and stay at the Hotel De Russie or Hotel De La Ville for some Italian spirit, feasting and celebration.
Brown’s Hotel shares the same spirit of nostalgia at Christmas and, perfectly set among the twinkling lights of Mayfair, the iconic ballet will, for a magical moment, appear among diners at Charlie’s for an unforgettable and immersive experience. Between the end of November and the week before Christmas, step into Belle Epoque enchantment with your family and enjoy a Michelin-starred dinner surrounded by award-winning ballet dancers, actors and magicians while serenaded by the notes of Tchaikovsky’s evocative score. Little ones will be thrilled by enjoying rich Christmas pudding while surrounded by the whirls and pirouettes of the Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy.
For a complete immersive London experience, attend The Nutcracker performance at the timeless Royal Opera House, where, “The Nutcracker is going to be truly thrilling his year," said Kevin O'Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet. "This magical ballet is set to Tchaikovsky’s much-loved score and will take audiences on a journey packed with mystery and magic. A true treat for all of the family and the perfect way to start the festive season."
For the ultimate festive enchantment, book a seasonal stay at one of our hotels in London and Rome and allow the concierge to arrange a performance of The Nutcracker for you and family.