The Nutcracker (Russian: , - / Shchelkunchik, Balet-feyeriya listen (help·info); French: Casse-Noisette, ballet-féerie) is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (op. 71). The libretto is adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King", by way of Alexandre Dumas' adapted story "The Nutcracker". It was given its premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on Sunday, 18 December 1892, on a double-bill with Tchaikovsky's opera Iolanta.
Although the original production was not a success, the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. However, the complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the late 1960s and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in North America. Major American ballet companies generate around 40% of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker.
Tchaikovsky's score has become one of his most famous compositions, in particular the pieces featured in the suite. Among other things, the score is noted for its use of the celesta, an instrument that the composer had already employed in his much lesser known symphonic ballad The Voyevoda.
After the success of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theatres, commissioned Tchaikovsky to compose a double-bill program featuring both an opera and a ballet. The opera would be Iolanta. For the ballet, Tchaikovsky would again join forces with Marius Petipa, with whom he had collaborated on The Sleeping Beauty. The material Petipa chose was an adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by Alexandre Dumas père called "The Tale of the Nutcracker". The plot of Hoffmann's story (and Dumas' adaptation) was greatly simplified for the two-act ballet. Hoffmann's tale contains a long flashback story within its main plot titled "The Tale of the Hard Nut", which explains how the Prince was turned into the Nutcracker. This had to be excised for the ballet.
Petipa gave Tchaikovsky extremely detailed instructions for the composition of each number, down to the tempo and number of bars. The completion of the work was interrupted for a short time when Tchaikovsky visited the United States for twenty-five days to conduct concerts for the opening of Carnegie Hall. Tchaikovsky composed parts of The Nutcracker in Rouen, France.
St. Petersburg premiere
The original production of The Nutcracker
The first performance of the ballet was held as a double premiere together with Tchaikovsky's last opera, Iolanta, on 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1892, at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Although the libretto was by Marius Petipa, who exactly choreographed the first production has been debated. Petipa began work on the choreography in August 1892; however, illness removed him from its completion and his assistant of seven years, Lev Ivanov, was brought in. Although Ivanov is often credited as the choreographer, some contemporary accounts credit Petipa. The performance was conducted by Riccardo Drigo, with Antonietta Dell'Era as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Pavel Gerdt as Prince Coqueluche, Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara, Sergei Legat as the Nutcracker-Prince, and Timofey Stukolkin as Drosselmeyer. The children's roles, unlike many later productions, were performed by real children rather than adults (with Belinskaya as Clara, and Vassily Stukolkin as Fritz), students of Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg.
The first performance of The Nutcracker was not deemed a success. The reaction to the dancers themselves was ambivalent. While some critics praised Dell'Era on her pointework as the Sugar Plum Fairy (she allegedly received five curtain-calls), one critic called her "corpulent" and "podgy". Olga Preobrajenskaya as the Columbine doll was panned by one critic as "completely insipid" and praised as "charming" by another.
Alexandre Benois described the choreography of the battle scene as confusing: "One can not understand anything. Disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards - quite amateurish."
The libretto was criticized as "lopsided" and for not being faithful to the Hoffmann tale. Much of the criticism focused on the featuring of children so prominently in the ballet, and many bemoaned the fact that the ballerina did not dance until the Grand Pas de Deux near the end of the second act (which did not occur until nearly midnight during the program). Some found the transition between the mundane world of the first scene and the fantasy world of the second act too abrupt. Reception was better for Tchaikovsky's score. Some critics called it "astonishingly rich in detailed inspiration" and "from beginning to end, beautiful, melodious, original, and characteristic". But even this was not unanimous as some critics found the party scene "ponderous" and the Grand Pas de Deux "insipid".
In 1919, choreographer Alexander Gorsky staged a production which eliminated the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier and gave their dances to Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, who were played by adults instead of children. This was the first production to do so. An abridged version of the ballet was first performed outside Russia in Budapest (Royal Opera House) in 1927, with choreography by Ede Brada. In 1934, choreographer Vasili Vainonen staged a version of the work that addressed many of the criticisms of the original 1892 production by casting adult dancers in the roles of Clara and the Prince, as Gorsky had. The Vainonen version influenced several later productions.
The first complete performance outside Russia took place in England in 1934, staged by Nicholas Sergeyev after Petipa's original choreography. Annual performances of the ballet have been staged there since 1952. Another abridged version of the ballet, performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, was staged in New York City in 1940,Alexandra Fedorova - again, after Petipa's version. The ballet's first complete United States performance was on 24 December 1944, by the San Francisco Ballet, staged by its artistic director, Willam Christensen, and starring Gisella Caccialanza as the Sugar Plum Fairy. After the enormous success of this production, San Francisco Ballet has presented Nutcracker every Christmas Eve and throughout the winter season, debuting new productions in 1944, 1954, 1967, and 2004. The New York City Ballet gave its first annual performance of George Balanchine's staging of The Nutcracker in 1954. Beginning in the 1960s, the tradition of performing the complete ballet at Christmas eventually spread to the rest of the United States.
Since Gorsky, Vainonen and Balanchine's productions, many other choreographers have made their own versions. Some institute the changes made by Gorsky and Vainonen while others, like Balanchine, utilize the original libretto. Some notable productions include those by Rudolf Nureyev for the Royal Ballet, Yuri Grigorovich for the Bolshoi Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov for the American Ballet Theatre, Kent Stowell for Pacific Northwest Ballet starting in 1983, and Peter Wright for the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. In recent years, revisionist productions, including those by Mark Morris, Matthew Bourne, and Mikhail Chemiakin have appeared; these depart radically from both the original 1892 libretto and Vainonen's revival, while Maurice Bejart's version completely discards the original plot and characters. In addition to annual live stagings of the work, many productions have also been televised and/or released on home video.
The following extrapolation of the characters (in order of appearance) is drawn from an examination of the stage directions in the score.
- Herr Stahlbaum
- His wife
- His children, including:
- Clara, his daughter, sometimes known as Marie or Masha
- Fritz, son
- Louise, his daughter
- Children Guests
- Parents dressed as incroyables
- Herr Drosselmeyer
- His nephew (in some versions) who resembles the Nutcracker Prince and is played by the same dancer
- Dolls (spring-activated, sometimes all three dancers instead):
- Harlequin and Columbine, appearing out of a cabbage (1st gift)
- Vivandière and a Soldier (2nd gift)
- Nutcracker (3rd gift, at first a normal-sized toy, then full-sized and "speaking", then a Prince)
- Owl (on clock, changing into Drosselmeyer)
- Sentinel (speaking role)
- The Bunny
- Soldiers (of the Nutcracker)
- Mouse King
- Snowflakes (sometimes Snow Crystals, sometimes accompanying a Snow Queen & King)
- Sugar Plum Fairy
- Nutcracker Prince
- 12 Pages
- Eminent members of the court
- Spanish dancers (Chocolate)
- Arabian dancers (Coffee)
- Chinese dancers (Tea)
- Russian dancers (Candy Canes)
- Danish shepherdesses/French mirliton players (Marzipan)
- Mother Ginger
- Polichinelles (Mother Ginger's Children)
- Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier
Below is a synopsis based on the original 1892 libretto by Marius Petipa. The story varies from production to production, though most follow the basic outline. The names of the characters also vary. In the original E. T. A. Hoffmann story, the young heroine is called Marie Stahlbaum and Clara (Klärchen) is her doll's name. In the adaptation by Dumas on which Petipa based his libretto, her name is Marie Silberhaus. In still other productions, such as Baryshnikov's, Clara is Clara Stahlbaum rather than Clara Silberhaus.
Scene 1: The Stahlbaum Home
It is Christmas Eve. Family and friends have gathered in the parlor to decorate the beautiful Christmas tree in preparation for the party. Once the tree is finished, the children are sent for. They stand in awe of the tree sparkling with candles and decorations.
The party begins. A march is played. Presents are given out to the children. Suddenly, as the owl-topped grandmother clock strikes eight, a mysterious figure enters the room. It is Drosselmeyer, a local councilman, magician, and Clara's godfather. He is also a talented toymaker who has brought with him gifts for the children, including four lifelike dolls who dance to the delight of all. He then has them put away for safekeeping.
Clara and Fritz are sad to see the dolls being taken away, but Drosselmeyer has yet another toy for them: a wooden nutcracker carved in the shape of a little man, used for cracking nuts. The other children ignore it, but Clara immediately takes a liking to it. Fritz, however, breaks it, and Clara is heartbroken.
During the night, after everyone else has gone to bed, Clara returns to the parlor to check on her beloved nutcracker. As she reaches the little bed, the clock strikes midnight and she looks up to see Drosselmeyer perched atop it. Suddenly, mice begin to fill the room and the Christmas tree begins to grow to dizzying heights. The nutcracker also grows to life size. Clara finds herself in the midst of a battle between an army of gingerbread soldiers and the mice, led by their king. They begin to eat the soldiers.
The nutcracker appears to lead the soldiers, who are joined by tin ones and dolls who serve as doctors to carry away the wounded. As the Mouse King advances on the still-wounded nutcracker, Clara throws her slipper at him, distracting him long enough for the nutcracker to stab him.
Scene 2: A Pine Forest
The mice retreat and the nutcracker is transformed into a handsome Prince. He leads Clara through the moonlit night to a pine forest in which the snowflakes dance around them, beckoning them on to his kingdom as the first act ends.
Scene 1: The Land of Sweets
Clara and the Prince travel to the beautiful Land of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Prince's place until his return. He recounts for her how he had been saved from the Mouse King by Clara and transformed back into himself.
In honor of the young heroine, a celebration of sweets from around the world is produced: chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia, tea from China, and candy canes from Russia all dance for their amusement; Danish shepherdesses perform on their flutes; Mother Ginger has her children, the Polichinelles, emerge from under her enormous hoop skirt to dance; a string of beautiful flowers perform a waltz. To conclude the night, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform a dance.
A final waltz is performed by all the sweets, after which the Sugar Plum Fairy ushers Clara and the Prince down from their throne. He bows to her, she kisses Clara goodbye, and leads them to a reindeer drawn sleigh. It takes off as they wave goodbye to all the subjects who wave back.
In the original libretto, the ballet's apotheosis "represents a large beehive with flying bees, closely guarding their riches". Just like Swan Lake, there have been various alternative endings created in productions subsequent to the original.
From the Imperial Ballet's 1892 program
Titles of all of the numbers listed here come from Marius Petipa's original scenario, as well as the original libretto and programs of the first production of 1892. All libretti and programs of works performed on the stages of the Imperial Theatres were titled in French, which was the official language of the Imperial Court, as well as the language from which balletic terminology is derived.
Casse-Noisette. Ballet-féerie in two acts and three tableaux with apotheosis.
- Petite ouverture
- Scène: Une fête de Noël
- Marche et petit galop des enfants
- Danse des incroyables et merveilleuses
- Entrée de Drosselmeyer
- Danses des poupées mécaniques--
- a. Le Soldat et la vivandière
- b. Arlequin et Colombine (originally composed for a She-devil and a He-devil)
- Le Casse-Noisette--Polka et la berceuse7.
- Danse "Großvater"
- Grand scène fantastique: la métamorphose du salon
- 10. La bataille de Casse-Noisette et du Roi des souris
- 11. Le voyage
- 12. Valse des flocons de neige
- 13a. Entr'acte
- 13b. Grand scène de Confiturembürg
- Grand divertissement--
- 14. "Chocolat"--Danse espagnole
- 15. "Café"--Danse arabe
- 16. "Thé"--Danse chinoise
- 17. Danse des Bouffons
- 18. Danse des mirlitons
- 19. La mère Gigogne et les polichinelles
- 20. Grand ballabile (Waltz of the Flowers)
- 21. Pas de deux--
- a. Adage
- b. Variation du Prince Coqueluche (M. Pavel Gerdt)
- c. Variation de la Fée-Dragée (Mlle Antoinetta Dell'Era)
- d. Coda
- 22. Coda générale
- 23. Apothéose: Une ruche
Ivan Vsevolozhsky's original costume designs for Mother Gigogne and her Polichinelle children, 1892
List of acts, scenes (tableaux) and musical numbers, along with tempo indications. Numbers are given according to the original Russian and French titles of the first edition score (1892), the piano reduction score by Sergei Taneyev (1892), both published by P. Jurgenson in Moscow, and the Soviet collected edition of the composer's works, as reprinted Melville, New York: Belwin Mills [n.d.]
||Scene (The Christmas Tree)
||Scène (L'arbre de Noël)
|| ( ? ?)
||Allegro non troppo - Più moderato - Allegro vivace
||scene of decorating and lighting the Christmas tree
||March (also March of the Toy Soldiers)
||Tempo di marcia viva
||Children's Gallop and Dance of the Parents
||Petit galop des enfants et Entrée des parents
||? ? ? ()
||Presto - Andante - Allegro
||Dance Scene (Arrival of Drosselmeyer)
|| ? ?
||Andantino - Allegro vivo - Andantino sostenuto - Più andante - Allegro molto vivace - Tempo di Valse - Presto
||Drosselmeyer's arrival and distribution of presents
||Scene and Grandfather Waltz
||Scène et danse du Gross-Vater
||Andante - Andantino - Moderato assai - Andante - L'istesso tempo - Tempo di Gross-Vater - Allegro vivacissimo
||Scene (Clara and the Nutcracker)
||Allegro semplice - Moderato con moto - Allegro giusto - Più allegro - Moderato assai
||departure of the guests
||Scene (The Battle)
||Scene (A Pine Forest in Winter)
||a.k.a. "Journey through the Snow"
||Waltz of the Snowflakes
||Valse des flocons de neige
|| ? ?
||Tempo di Valse, ma con moto - Presto
||Scene (The Magic Castle in the Land of Sweets)
||Scene (Clara and Nutcracker Prince)
||Andante con moto - Moderato - Allegro agitato - Poco più allegro - Tempo precedente
||arrival of Clara and the Prince
- a. Chocolate (Spanish Dance)
- b. Coffee (Arabian Dance)
- c. Tea (Chinese Dance)
- d. Candy Canes (Russian Dance)
- e. Marzipan (Dance of the Reed Flutes)
- f. Mother Ginger and the Polichinelles
- a. Le chocolat (Danse espagnole)
- b. Le café (Danse arabe)
- c. Le thé (Danse chinoise)
- d. Trépak (Danse russe)
- e. Les Mirlitons (Danse des Mirlitons)
- f. La mère Gigogne et les polichinelles
- a. ? ( )
- b. ? ( )
- c. ( )
- d. (? )
- f. ?
Tempo di trepak, molto vivace
Allegro giocoso - Andante - Allegro vivo
e. a.k.a. "Dance of the Reed Pipes"
f. a.k.a. "Mother Ginger and Her Children", "Dance of the Clowns", or "Polichinelles"
||Waltz of the Flowers
||Valse des fleurs
||Tempo di Valse
||Pas de Deux
- Intrada (Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier)
- Variation I: Tarantella
- Variation II: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
|Pas de deux
- La Fée-Dragée et le Prince Orgeat
- Variation I: Tarantelle (Pour le danseur)
- Variation II: Danse de la Fée-Dragée (Pour la danseuse)
Tempo di Tarantella
Andante ma non troppo - Presto
a.k.a. "Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier"
for the male dancer
for the female dancer
||Final Waltz and Apotheosis
||Valse finale et Apothéose
|| ? ?
||Tempo di Valse - Molto meno
- 3 flutes (2nd & 3rd doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets in B♭ and A, bass clarinet in B♭, and 2 bassoons
- 4 French horns in F, 2 trumpets in A and B♭, 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), and tuba
- timpani, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, triangle, tambourine, castanets, tam-tam, glockenspiel, and "toy instruments" (rattle, trumpet, drum, cuckoo, quail, cymbals, and rifle)
- SA chorus
- 2 harps, first and second violins, violas, violoncellos, and double basses
Tchaikovsky's sources and influences
Ivan Vsevolozhsky's original costume sketch for The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker is one of the composer's most popular compositions. The music belongs to the Romantic Period and contains some of his most memorable melodies, several of which are frequently used in television and film. (They are often heard in TV commercials shown during the Christmas season.) The Trepak, or Russian dance, is one of the most recognizable pieces in the ballet, along with the famous Waltz of the Flowers and March, as well as the ubiquitous Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The composer's reverence for Rococo and late 18th-century music can be detected in passages such as the Overture, the "Entrée des parents", and "Tempo di Grossvater" in act 1.
Tchaikovsky is said to have argued with a friend who wagered that the composer could not write a melody based on a one-octave scale in sequence. Tchaikovsky asked if it mattered whether the notes were in ascending or descending order, and was assured it did not. This resulted in the Adagio from the Grand pas de deux, which, in the ballet, nearly always immediately follows the Waltz of the Flowers. A story is also told that Tchaikovsky's sister had died shortly before he began composition of the ballet, and that his sister's death influenced him to compose a melancholy, descending scale melody for the adagio of the Grand Pas de Deux.
One novelty in Tchaikovsky's original score was the use of the celesta, a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He wanted it genuinely for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy to characterize her because of its "heavenly sweet sound". It appears not only in her "Dance", but also in other passages in act 2. (However, he first wrote for the celesta in his symphonic ballad The Voyevoda the previous year.) Tchaikovsky also uses toy instruments during the Christmas party scene. Tchaikovsky was proud of the celesta's effect, and wanted its music performed quickly for the public, before he could be "scooped."
Although the original ballet is only about 85 minutes long if performed without applause or an intermission, and therefore much shorter than either Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, some modern staged performances have omitted or re-ordered some of the music, or inserted selections from elsewhere, thus adding to the confusion over the suites. In fact, most of the very famous versions of the ballet have had the order of the dances slightly re-arranged, if they have not actually altered the music. For instance, the 1954 George Balanchine New York City Ballet version adds to Tchaikovsky's score an entr'acte that the composer wrote for act 2 of The Sleeping Beauty, but which is now seldom played in productions of that ballet. It is used as a transition between the departure of the guests and the battle with the mice. Nearly all of the CD and LP recordings of the complete ballet present Tchaikovsky's score exactly as he originally conceived it.
Tchaikovsky was less satisfied with The Nutcracker than with The Sleeping Beauty. (In the film Fantasia, commentator Deems Taylor observes that he "really detested" the score.) Tchaikovsky accepted the commission from Vsevolozhsky but did not particularly want to write the ballet (though he did write to a friend while composing it: "I am daily becoming more and more attuned to my task").
Concert excerpts and arrangements
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a
Tchaikovsky made a selection of eight of the numbers from the ballet before the ballet's December 1892 première, forming The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, intended for concert performance. The suite was first performed, under the composer's direction, on 19 March 1892 at an assembly of the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. The suite became instantly popular, with almost every number encored at its premiere, while the complete ballet did not begin to achieve its great popularity until after the George Balanchine staging became a hit in New York City. The suite became very popular on the concert stage, and was experted in Disney's Fantasia, with everything omitted prior to Sugar Plum Fairies. The Nutcracker Suite should not be mistaken for the complete ballet. The outline below represents the selection and sequence of the Nutcracker Suite culled by the composer.
I. Miniature Overture
II. Danses caractéristiques
- a. Marche
- b. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy [ending altered from ballet-version]
- c. Russian Dance (Trepak)
- d. Arabian Dance
- e. Chinese Dance
- f. Reed Flutes
- III. Waltz of the Flowers
Grainger: Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky's Flower Waltz, for solo piano
The Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky's Flower Waltz is a successful piano arrangement from one of the movements from The Nutcracker by the pianist and composer Percy Grainger.
Pletnev: Concert suite from The Nutcracker, for solo piano
The pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev adapted some of the music into a virtuosic concert suite for piano solo:
- a. March
- b. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
- c. Tarantella
- d. Intermezzo (Journey through the Snow)
- e. Russian Trepak
- f. Chinese Dance
- g. Andante maestoso (Pas de Deux)
Many recordings have been made since 1909 of the Nutcracker Suite, which made its initial appearance on disc that year in what is now historically considered the first record album. This recording was conducted by Herman Finck and featured the London Palace Orchestra. But it was not until the LP album was developed that recordings of the complete ballet began to be made. Because of the ballet's approximate hour and a half length when performed without intermission, applause, or interpolated numbers, it fits very comfortably onto two LPs. Most CD recordings take up two discs, often with fillers. An exception is the 81-minute 1998 Philips recording by Valery Gergiev that fits onto one CD because of Gergiev's somewhat brisker speeds.
- 1954, the year in which Balanchine first staged his production of it, was also the year that the first complete recording of the ballet appeared - a 2-LP album set in mono sound released by Mercury Records. The cover design was by George Maas and featured illustrations by Dorothy Maas. The music was performed by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Antal Doráti. Dorati later re-recorded the complete ballet in stereo, with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1962 for Mercury and with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1975 for Philips Classics. According to Mercury Records, the 1962 recording was made on 35mm magnetic film rather than audio tape, and used album cover art identical to that of the 1954 recording. Dorati is the only conductor so far to have made three different recordings of the complete ballet. Some have hailed the 1975 recording as the finest ever made of the complete ballet. It is also faithful to the score in employing a boys' choir in the Waltz of the Snowflakes. Many other recordings use an adult or mixed choir.
- In 1956, the conductor Artur Rodzi?ski and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra made a complete recording of the ballet on stereo master tapes for Westminster Records, but because stereo was not possible on the LP format in 1956, the recording was issued in stereo on magnetic tape, and only a mono 2-LP set was issued. (Recently, the Rodzi?ski performance was issued in stereo on CD.) Rodzi?ski had previously made a 78-RPM mono recording of the Nutcracker Suite for Columbia Masterworks in 1946, a recording which was reissued in 1948 as part of Columbia's first collection of classical LP's. According to some sources, Rodzi?ski made two complete recordings of the ballet, one with the Royal Philharmonic and one with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. However, the conductor died only two years after making his 1956 Nutcracker recording, so it is possible that there may have been a mislabeling.
- In 1959, the first stereo LP album set of the complete ballet, with Ernest Ansermet conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, appeared on Decca Records in the UK and London Records in the US.
- The first complete stereo Nutcracker with a Russian conductor and a Russian orchestra appeared in 1960, when Gennady Rozhdestvensky's recording of it, with the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, was issued first in the Soviet Union on Melodiya, then imported to the U.S. on Columbia Masterworks. It was also Columbia Masterworks' first complete Nutcracker.
With the advent of the stereo LP coinciding with the growing popularity of the complete ballet, many other complete recordings of it have been made. Notable conductors who have done so include Maurice Abravanel, André Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Mariss Jansons, Seiji Ozawa, Richard Bonynge, Semyon Bychkov, Alexander Vedernikov, Ondrej Lenard, Mikhail Pletnev, and most recently, Simon Rattle. A CD of excerpts from the Tilson Thomas version had as its album cover art a painting of Mikhail Baryshnikov in his Nutcracker costume; perhaps this was due to the fact that the Tilson Thomas recording was released by CBS Masterworks, and CBS had first telecast the Baryshnikov "Nutcracker".
- The soundtrack of the 1977 television production with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, featuring the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn, was issued in stereo on a CBS Masterworks 2 LP-set, but it has not appeared on CD. The LP soundtrack recording was, for a time, the only stereo version of the Baryshnikov Nutcracker available, since the show was originally telecast only in mono, and it was not until recently that it began to be telecast with stereo sound. The sound portion of the DVD is also in stereo.
- The first complete recording of the ballet in digital stereo was issued in 1985, on a two-CD RCA set featuring Leonard Slatkin conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. This album originally had no "filler", but it has recently been re-issued on a multi-CD set containing complete recordings of Tchaikovsky's two other ballets, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. This three-ballet album has now gone out of print.
There have been two major theatrical film versions of the ballet, made within seven years of each other, and both were given soundtrack albums.
- The first theatrical film adaptation, made in 1985, is of the Pacific Northwest Ballet version, and was conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. The music is played in this production by the London Symphony Orchestra. The film was directed by Carroll Ballard, who had never before directed a ballet film (and hasn't since). Patricia Barker played Clara in the fantasy sequences, and Vanessa Sharp played her in the Christmas party scene. Wade Walthall was the Nutcracker Prince.
- The second film adaptation was a 1993 film of the New York City Ballet version, titled George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, with David Zinman conducting the New York City Ballet Orchestra. The director was Emile Ardolino, who had won the Emmy, Obie, and Academy Awards for filming dance, and was to die of AIDS later that year. Principal dancers included the Balanchine muse Darci Kistler, who played the Sugar Plum Fairy, Heather Watts, Damian Woetzel, and Kyra Nichols. Two well-known actors also took part: Macaulay Culkin appeared as the Nutcracker/Prince, and Kevin Kline served as the offscreen narrator. The soundtrack features the interpolated number from The Sleeping Beauty that Balanchine used in the production, and the music is heard on the album in the order that it appears in the film, not in the order that it appears in the original ballet.
- Notable albums of excerpts from the ballet, rather than just the usual Nutcracker Suite, were recorded by Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra for Columbia Masterworks, and Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for RCA Victor. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra (for RCA), as well as Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (for Telarc) have also recorded albums of extended excerpts. The original edition of Michael Tilson Thomas's version with the Philharmonia Orchestra on CBS Masterworks was complete, but is out of print; the currently available edition is abridged.
Neither Ormandy, Reiner, nor Fiedler ever recorded a complete version of the ballet; however, Kunzel's album of excerpts runs 73 minutes, containing more than two-thirds of the music. Conductor Neeme Järvi has recorded act 2 of the ballet complete, along with excerpts from Swan Lake. The music is played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
- Very many famous conductors of the twentieth century made recordings of the suite, but not of the complete ballet. These include such luminaries as Arturo Toscanini, Sir Thomas Beecham, Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, James Levine, Sir Neville Marriner, Robert Shaw, Mstislav Rostropovich, Sir Georg Solti, Leopold Stokowski, Zubin Mehta, and John Williams, among many others.
- In 2007, Josh Perschbacher recorded an organ transcription of the Nutcracker Suite.
- In 1942, Freddy Martin and his orchestra recorded The Nutcracker Suite for Dance Orchestra on a set of 4 10-inch 78-RPM records. An arrangement of the suite that lay between dance music and jazz, it was released by RCA Victor.
- In 1947, Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians recorded "The Nutcracker Suite" on a two-part Decca Records 12-inch 78 RPM record with one part on each side as Decca DU 90022, packaged in a picture sleeve. This version had custom lyrics written for Waring's chorus by among others, Waring himself. The arrangements were by Harry Simeone.
- In 1960, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn composed jazz interpretations of pieces from Tchaikovsky's score, recorded and released on LP as The Nutcracker Suite. In 1999, this suite was supplemented with additional arrangements from the score by David Berger for The Harlem Nutcracker, a production of the ballet by Donald Byrd set during the Harlem Renaissance.
- In 1960, Shorty Rogers released The Swingin' Nutcracker, featuring jazz interpretations of pieces from Tchaikovsky's score.
- In 1962, American poet and humorist Ogden Nash wrote verses inspired by the ballet, and these verses have sometimes been performed in concert versions of the Nutcracker Suite. It has been recorded with Peter Ustinov reciting the verses, and the music is unchanged from the original.
- In 1962 a novelty boogie piano arrangement of the "Marche", titled "Nut Rocker", was a No.1 single in the UK, and No.21 in the USA. Credited to B. Bumble and the Stingers, it was produced by Kim Fowley and featured studio musicians Al Hazan (piano), Earl Palmer (drums), Tommy Tedesco (guitar) and Red Callender (bass). "Nut Rocker" has subsequently been covered by many others including The Shadows, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Ventures, Dropkick Murphys, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The Ventures' own instrumental rock cover of "Nut Rocker", known as "Nutty", is commonly connected to the NHL team, the Boston Bruins, from being used as the theme for the Bruins' telecast games for over two decades, from the late 1960s. In 2004, The Invincible Czars arranged, recorded, and now annually perform the entire suite for rock band.
- The Trans-Siberian Orchestra's first album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, includes an instrumental piece titled "A Mad Russian's Christmas", which is a rock version of music from The Nutcracker.
- On the other end of the scale is the humorous Spike Jones version released in December 1945 and again in 1971 as part of the long play record Spike Jones is Murdering the Classics, one of the rare comedic pop records to be issued on the prestigious RCA Red Seal label.
- The Disco Biscuits, a trance-fusion jam band from Philadelphia, have performed "Waltz of the Flowers" and "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" on multiple occasions.
- The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ) recorded the Suite arranged for four acoustic guitars on their CD recording Dances from Renaissance to Nutcracker (1992, Delos).
- In 1993, guitarist Tim Sparks recorded his arrangements for acoustic guitar on The Nutcracker Suite.
- The Shirim Klezmer Orchestra released a klezmer version, titled "Klezmer Nutcracker," in 1998 on the Newport label. The album became the basis for a December 2008 production by Ellen Kushner, titled "The Klezmer Nutcracker" and staged off Broadway in New York City.
- In 2002, The Constructus Corporation used the melody of Sugar Plum Fairy for their track Choose Your Own Adventure.
- In 2008 a progressive metal / instrumental rock version of The Nutcracker Suite was released by Christmas at the Devil's House. It includes Overture Miniature, March, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Russian Dance, Chinese Dance, Arabian Dance, Dance of the Reed Flutes, and Waltz of the Flowers.
- In 2009, Pet Shop Boys used a melody from "March" for their track "All Over the World", taken from their album Yes.
- In 2010, Belgian rapper Lunaman had a hit single "Nutcracka", whose chorus quoted portions of the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy".
- In 2012, jazz pianist Eyran Katsenelenbogen released his renditions of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Dance of the Reed Flutes, Russian Dance and Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker Suite.
- In 2012, Duo Symphonious recorded an extended version of the Suite arranged for two classical guitars on their debut album "The Portable Nutcracker". Their version includes "A Pine Forest in Winter" as well as the entire "Pas de Deux".
- In 2014, Canadian electronic music producer Brado Popcorn released three versions of the song, titled "The Distorted Dance of The Sugarplum Fairy" on his "A Tribute to the Music of Tetris" album.
- In 2014, Pentatonix released an a cappella arrangement of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" on the holiday album That's Christmas to Me and received a Grammy Award on 16 February 2016 for best arrangement.
- In 2015 GlassDuo released an album Glassified with Sugar Plum Fairy recorded on musical glasses (Glass harp).
- In 2016, Jennifer Thomas included an instrumental version of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" on her album Winter Symphony.
- In 2017, Lindsey Stirling released her version of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" on her holiday album Warmer in the Winter.
In popular culture
For a comprehensive list of stage, film and television adaptations of The Nutcracker, see: List of productions of The Nutcracker
Several films having little or nothing to do with the ballet or the original Hoffmann tale have used its music:
- The 1940 Disney animated film Fantasia features a segment using The Nutcracker Suite. This version was also included both as part of the 3-LP soundtrack album of Fantasia (since released as a 2-CD set), and as a single LP, with Dance of the Hours, another Fantasia segment, on the reverse side.
- The Spirit of Christmas, a 1950 marionette made-for-TV featurette in color narrated by Alexander Scourby, utilizes the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, and this sequence also includes music from The Nutcracker.
- A 1951 thirty-minute short, Santa and the Fairy Snow Queen, issued on DVD by Something Weird Video, features several dances from The Nutcracker.
- A 1954 16mm short subject version of The Little Match Girl features a dream sequence in which music from The Nutcracker is played.
- The Nutcracker (1973) features a nameless girl (slightly similar to Clara) who works as a maid. She befriends and falls in love with a nutcracker ornament, who was a young prince cursed by the three headed Mouse King.
- Sanrio released a stop-motion adaptation of The Nutcracker entitled Nutcracker Fantasy in 1979.
- A 1990 animated film titled The Nutcracker Prince was released and distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures and uses cuts of the music throughout and its story is based heavily on that of the ballet.
- In 2001, Barbie appeared in her first film, Barbie in the Nutcracker. It used excerpts by Tchaikovsky, which were performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Though it heavily altered the story, it still made use of ballet sequences which had been rotoscoped using real ballet dancers.
- In the 2006 remake of Black Christmas, 'Dance of the sugar plum fairy' appears numerous times throughout the movie including being the ringtone of the protagonist's cellphone, a music box and playing during the end credits.
- In 2007, Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale also used 'The Nutcracker' excerpts, which were performed by The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.
- In 2010, The Nutcracker in 3D (Elle Fanning) abandoned the ballet and most of the story, retaining much of Tchaikovsky's music with lyrics by Tim Rice. The $90 million film became the year's biggest box office bomb.
- In 2013, Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie the ending scene is a reference to the Nutcracker Witch.
- Disney is developing a live-action adaptation titled The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Lasse Hallström would direct from a script by Ashleigh Powell.
- A 1954 Christmas episode of General Electric Theater featured Fred Waring and his choral group, the Pennsylvanians, singing excerpts from The Nutcracker with specially written lyrics. While the music was being sung, the audience saw ballet dancers performing. The episode was hosted by Ronald Reagan.
- A 1996 episode of The Magic School Bus ("Holiday Special", season 3, episode 39), Wanda is planning to see a performance of The Nutcracker. Some of the music for this episode was based on the score of the ballet.
- Princess Tutu, a 2002 anime series that uses elements from many ballets as both music and as part of the storyline, uses the music from The Nutcracker in many places throughout its run, including using an arranged version of the overture as the theme for the main character. Both the first and last episodes feature The Nutcracker as their 'theme', and one of the main characters is named Drosselmeyer.
- A 2002 episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog titled "The Nutcracker", set in a junkyard, portrayed the title character using a broken nutcracker to defend his masters against two enormous rats intent on devouring them.
- A House of Mouse special, Snowed in at the House of Mouse, included an animated short, starring Mickey Mouse as the Nutcracker, Minnie Mouse as Maria, Ludwig von Drake as a character based on Herr Drosselmeyer, Goofy as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Donald Duck as the "Duck-stroke-Mouse-stroke-King-type-person" (or the Mouse King), and portrayed a brief overview of the story, sarcastically narrated by John Cleese. The story ran with modern rock-style adaptations of Tchaikovsky's music.
- The "Toon TV" episode of Tiny Toon Adventures and The Plucky Duck Show features a song called "Video Game Blues", set to the melodies of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" and the "Russian Dance".
- A 2005 episode of The Simpsons called "Simpsons Christmas Stories" (Season 17, episode 9), features a montage in which are seen residents of Springfield on Christmas, singing to the tune of pieces from The Nutcracker Suite.
- The Wonder Pets on Nick Jr. includes a Christmas themed episode called "Save the Nutcracker", featuring the Nutcracker and Mouse King from the original ballet, as well as much of the music.
- An episode of the PBS Kids series Super Why features the Mouse King as a central character.
- In an episode of Angelina Ballerina: The Next Steps, Angelina sees a performance of The Nutcracker.
- The Animaniacs cartoon Nutcracker Slappy featured Slappy and Skippy trying to crack open a walnut in various ways only to find it was empty, all to the music of The Nutcracker.
- A two part episode of the Care Bears cartoon series in the 1980s features the Care Bears as the main characters, with Beastley as the Rat King.
- During the Christmas music special of Beavis and Butt-head, one of the incidental bits of music they hear is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, at which Beavis is impressed (saying it's like Ozzy) and he even chants along to the tune before humming Iron Man. The song also appears in the episode The Mystery Of Morning Wood while they sleep and the Morning Wood Fairy comes out of the TV.
- In the 2009 MythBusters Demolition Derby Special, Adam and Jamie are testing the "Need for Speed" myth. As Adam and Jamie are preparing the bus for testing, Adam is aggressively preparing the bus to the sound of heavy metal, while Jamie is gently preparing the roll cage to the tune of "Dance of the Reed Flutes."
- Monty Python's Flying Circus, episode 25 (series 2, episode 12) titled, "Spam." Within this episode is the "Hospital for Over-Actors" sketch, which includes several patients acting as the Mouse King.
- In the early 1980s, a commercial for the breakfast cereal Smurfberry Crunch used a portion of The Nutcracker Suite as music for an advertising jingle sung by Smurfs.
- The season 1 episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, "Suds", "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is heard in its background music soundtrack a number of times.
- In episode 9 of Time Bokan 24, "Dance of the Reed Flutes" plays when the Akudama Trio holds signs in Space to get Gagarin to say "The Earth is Blue".
- The 2015 Canadian television film The Curse of Clara: A Holiday Tale, based on an autobiographical short story by onetime Canadian ballet student Vickie Fagan, centres on a young ballet student preparing to dance the role of Clara in a production of The Nutcracker.
- In the Game Boy version of Tetris, "Russian Dance".
- In the NES version of Tetris, the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is available as background music (referred to in the settings as "Music 1").
- In the NES game, Winter Games, "Waltz of the Flowers" is used as the music for the figure skating event.
- In the game BioShock, the main character Jack meets an insane musician named Sander Cohen who tasks Jack with killing and photographing four of Sander's ex-disciples. When the third photograph is given to Sander, in a fit of pique he unleashes waves of splicer enemies to attack Jack while playing "Waltz of the Flowers" from speakers in the area.
- In the original Lemmings "Dance of the Reed Flutes" and "Miniature Overture" is used in several levels.
- In Weird Dreams, there is also a fat ballerina dancing to the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" in the Hall of Tubes.
- In the Baby Bowser levels of Yoshi's Story, a variation of the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is used as the background music.
- In Mega Man Legends, the "Waltz of the Flowers" can be heard in the Balloon Fantasy minigame.
- In the Wii Winter Olympics game, a piece from "The Nutcracker" is used as background music for a figure skating event.
- In Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance the "Waltz of Flowers", "The Arabian Dance", "The Russian Dance", "The Dance of the Reed Flutes" and "The Chinese Dance" are the background themes that play when Riku is in the world based on Disney's Fantasia.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend, the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is used as the character theme for Iwamine Shuu.
- In a TV advertisement for Army Men: Sarge's Heroes 2, the plastic army men work together using a train playset to move a firecracker under the Christmas tree and place it between the Nutcracker doll's legs, while "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" plays.
- In Fantasia: Music Evolved, a medley of "The Nutcracker" is listed and consists of the "Marche", "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy", and "Trepak"; besides the original mix, there is also the "D00 BAH D00" mix and the "DC Breaks" mix.
- In Dynamite Headdy, the "March" is used in the Mad Dog boss battle.
- In Grand Theft Auto V one of the classical horns, that can be bought for cars, plays the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy".
- The "Waltz of the Flowers" appears during a baby's death scene in What Remains of Edith Finch.
- In Rainbow Six: Siege, the piece: The Nutcracker, Miniature Overture, composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky can be overheard playing in the Cigar Lounge on the second floor of Kafe Dostoyevsky.
There have been several recorded children's adaptations of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story (the basis for the ballet) using Tchaikovsky's music, some quite faithful, some not. One that was not was a version titled The Nutcracker Suite for Children, narrated by Metropolitan Opera announcer Milton Cross, which used a two-piano arrangement of the music. It was released as a 78-RPM album set in the 1940s. For the children's label Peter Pan Records, actor Victor Jory narrated a condensed adaptation of the story with excerpts from the score. It was released on one side of a 45-RPM disc. A later version, titled The Nutcracker Suite, starred Denise Bryer and a full cast, was released in the 1960s on LP and made use of Tchaikovsky's music in the original orchestral arrangements. It was quite faithful to Hoffmann's story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the ballet is based, even to the point of including the section in which Clara cuts her arm on the glass toy cabinet, and also mentioning that she married the Prince at the end. It also included a less gruesome version of "The Tale of the Hard Nut", the tale-within-a-tale in Hoffmann's story. It was released as part of the Tale Spinners for Children series.
Another children's LP, The Nutcracker Suite with Words, featured Captain Kangaroo's Bob Keeshan narrating the story, and sung versions of the different movements, with special lyrics.
- In 2009, Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic Sarah Kaufman wrote a series of articles for The Washington Post criticizing the primacy of The Nutcracker in the American repertory for stunting the creative evolution of ballet in the United States:
That warm and welcoming veneer of domestic bliss in The Nutcracker gives the appearance that all is just plummy in the ballet world. But ballet is beset by serious ailments that threaten its future in this country... companies are so cautious in their programming that they have effectively reduced an art form to a rotation of over-roasted chestnuts that no one can justifiably croon about... The tyranny of The Nutcracker is emblematic of how dull and risk-averse American ballet has become. There were moments throughout the 20th century when ballet was brave. When it threw bold punches at its own conventions. First among these was the Ballets Russes period, when ballet--ballet--lassoed the avant-garde art movement and, with works such as Michel Fokine's fashionably sexy Scheherazade (1910) and Léonide Massine's Cubist-inspired Parade (1917), made world capitals sit up and take notice. Afraid of scandal? Not these free-thinkers; Vaslav Nijinsky's rough-hewn, aggressive Rite of Spring famously put Paris in an uproar in 1913... Where are this century's provocations? Has ballet become so entwined with its "Nutcracker" image, so fearfully wedded to unthreatening offerings, that it has forgotten how eye-opening and ultimately nourishing creative destruction can be?
- In 2010, Alastair Macaulay, dance critic for The New York Times (who had previously taken Kaufman to task for her criticism of The Nutcracker) began The Nutcracker Chronicles, a series of blog articles documenting his travels across the United States to see different productions of the ballet.
Act I of The Nutcracker ends with snow falling and snowflakes dancing. Yet The Nutcracker is now seasonal entertainment even in parts of America where snow seldom falls: Hawaii, the California coast, Florida. Over the last 70 years this ballet--conceived in the Old World--has become an American institution. Its amalgam of children, parents, toys, a Christmas tree, snow, sweets and Tchaikovsky's astounding score is integral to the season of good will that runs from Thanksgiving to New Year... I am a European who lives in America, and I never saw any Nutcracker until I was 21. Since then I've seen it many times. The importance of this ballet to America has become a phenomenon that surely says as much about this country as it does about this work of art. So this year I'm running a Nutcracker marathon: taking in as many different American productions as I can reasonably manage in November and December, from coast to coast (more than 20, if all goes well). America is a country I'm still discovering; let The Nutcracker be part of my research.
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