Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker (French: Casse-Noisette) is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. It was first performed on 18 December 1892, in St. Petersburg.
Lyrical, enchanting and magical, The Nutcracker is a time-honoured perennial traditional ballet that combines music and dance in dreamy romance. As wintry and wonderful as the Christmas season itself, The Nutcracker is a true fairytale brought to life.
The original Nutcracker ballet is based on a rather dark and somewhat scary fairylate intended for adult audiences called The Nutcracker and the Mouse Kingby German writer, composer, caricaturist and painter E.T.A. Hoffmann. Published in 1816, this story told of mystical events that transpired during the Christmas season. French writer Alexandre Dumas rewrote the happier and more magical version of this tale years later so that is appealed more to children. This lighthearted rendition caught the eye of French-born dancer and choreographer Marius Petipa, who was the chief master of the Russian Imperial Ballet. He commissioned Russina composer extraordinaire Pyotr Tchaikovsky to write the music. Petipa's assistant Lev Ivanov created the choreography and the production was first brought to life on stage in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The first performance of the ballet was held in a double premiere together with Tchaikovsky's last opera Iolanta at the Mariinsky Theatre, home of the Kirov Ballet.
An interesting footnote to the score of The Nutcraker is the famous use of the celesta in the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy. Tchaikovsky had discovered the newly invented instrument just before departing for the U.S., and was immediatly captivated by its "divinely beautiful tone". He arranged to have one sent to Russia secretly, because he was afraid that Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov might get hold of it and use the unusual effect before him. Luckily this did not happen, and nobody has been able to duplicate the magic achieved by this most passionate of all composers in his most popular work.