Anniversary: 120 years since premiere of The Nutcracker

Photo in public domainTUESDAY, DECEMBER 18: Glittering nutcrackers in every shape and size fill store shelves this time of year, thanks to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker—which premiered in Russia 120 years ago today. On this evening in 1892, the two-act ballet was paired with an opera for attendees of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Based on an adaption of E.T.A Hoffman’s story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the original ballet was met with criticism for sloppy choreography, out-of-shape dancers and a confusing storyline. (Wikipedia has details.) On the contrary, Tchaikovsky’s contribution to the performance—the musical suite—received rave reviews. With improvements made to the choreography, The Nutcracker has exploded in popularity since the 1960s. Today, nearly every ballet company performs a rendition of the tale, in almost every city in America, during the Christmas season.

Following much success with The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, Tchaikovsky was commissioned by the director of the Imperial Theatres to compose a double-bill program, which would include both an opera and a ballet. Under stringent restraints, Tchaikovsky was told both the tempo and number of bars he must use. Despite the demanding instructions, Tchaikovsky composed one of the world’s most popular scores. From opening night, critics deemed it “astonishingly rich in inspiration” and “beautiful, melodious, original and characteristic.”


The Nevada Ballet Theatre knocked The Nutcracker off its wooden boots this season with a brand-new, special-effects strewn, bigger-than-life rendition of the classical tale (ringing in with a budget of $2 million). While it may be too much for traditionalists, the Las Vegas show dazzles with digital snowstorms, giant clocks and a cavernous dollhouse. It’s no wonder, though—head scenic designer Patricia Ruel took a cue from her work with sets for Cirque du Soleil. Some critics argue that the dancers get lost among the over-the-top scenery, but rest assured: one thing this show does right is deliver a true Las Vegas punch.

Hosting a Nutcracker-themed party? Get ideas from Martha Stewart Weddings editorial director Darcy Nussbaum, who was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.

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