Pjotr I. Tschaikovsky’s »Nutcracker«, which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892, is a Christmas classic as popular with Semperoper audiences as Dresden Stollen or the famous Striezelmarkt. In their interpretation, Aaron S. Watkin and Jason Beechey have drawn on the stories of E. T. A. Hoffmann to create a fairy-tale classical ballet set in Dresden during the festive period: On Christmas Eve, Marie is given a nutcracker that immediately becomes her prized possession. Soon, however, danger appears in the form a horde of belligerent mice. Then the nutcracker springs to life and does battle with the enemy army. Accompanied by her new protector, the girl embarks on a journey through a land of sweet dreams, and into adulthood.
The Christmas Market
Night falls on wintery Dresden where the hustle and bustle of the Christmas market slowly dies down. While the marketeers put their exotic goods away and the last visitors stroll across the square in joyful anticipation of Christmas, mysterious Drosselmeier appears and introduces his magic world …
The Stahlbaum family is busy decorating their Christmas tree, in preparation for the festivities. The children of the family - Luise, Fritz and Marie - are excited beyond all bounds. Finally they are allowed to enter the parlour, where the presents will be distributed, together with the family’s guests. Showered with presents, the children begin to play; the girls cuddle their dolls, the boys try out their new musical instruments – until suddenly the last guest appears: Drosselmeier.
The gentleman is beset with something weird, something that awes the children and at the same time arouses their curiosity, because Drosselmeier always gives them the most wonderful presents. Luise is given a marzipan castle, Fritz a spooky Mouse King with seven crowned heads. Marie, the youngest daughter, is given a Nutcracker which immediately enchants her.
Drosselmeier’s biggest surprise is two dolls the size of children, Sugar Fairy and her husband. They start dancing at his command just like two other figures of the same size – Nutcracker and Mouse King.
Drosselmeier then turns his attention to Marie and shows her how to crack nuts with her Nutcracker. Joy, however, does not last for long: Fritz maltreats his wooden fellow whose broken jaw needs to be dressed by Marie and Drosselmeier.
The party ends after several dances. The guests bid goodbye and the Stahlbaum children go to bed. Only Drosselmeier seems to have something in mind …
Just before midnight Marie sneaks back into the parlour in order to look for her Nutcracker. She is almost scared to death when she discovers a mouse of about her own size. She also thinks that she sees Drosselmeier sitting on the grandfather clock, a place usually taken by an owl.
More and more mice are filling the room and when Marie tries to escape, she hurts herself on the glass cabinet and faints, holding her Nutcracker in her arm. In an attempt to protect her, Drosselmeier carries the child to the sofa and examines the nutcracker whose chin seems to have healed.
All of a sudden everything in the parlour starts to grow, the Christmas tree, the sofa, the glass cabinet. But also Marie is growing. The small child actually turns into a young woman – she can hardly believe what is happening to her.
The presents too, Marie’s Nutcracker and her brother Fritz’s Mouse King become life size, come to life and confront each other in a hostile manner and ready for a fight. Nutcracker gathers his troops from the toy soldiers which have come to life in the glass cabinet where Fritz had kept them. The army is confronted by an army of mice led by the Mouse King. A fierce battle begins. When Mouse King seems to prevail, Marie intervenes and assures Nutcracker’s victory. In a wondrous way he is transformed into a young Prince.
The Magic Winter-Wood
Marie and her Prince see how the world dissolves around them and find themselves in a snow-covered mysterious winter wood. Drosselmeier leaves the two alone who are united in tender love. Completely exhilarated, Marie is completely entranced by this place and dances with her Prince, snowflakes and icicles. Snow Queen sends Marie and her young companion on a trip to the Land of Sweets reigned by Sugar Fairy, the Prince’s mother.
Arrival in a Dream & Longing
The Land of Sweets
At the end of their trip Marie arrives at a castle and cannot believe her eyes: all her dolls from home are alive and everything seems to be made of sweets, Spanish, French, Oriental and German treats, a feast for eyes and palate. Sugar Fairy appears with her husband and welcomes her son with Marie at his side.
The Prince tells of the battle against Mouse King and Marie’s help which saved his life. Grateful for this, Sugar Fairy, declares the couple to be the future rulers. The Prince and Marie celebrate their young love by dancing a flower waltz, followed by Sugar Fairy and her husband who demonstrate their noblesse and elegance with a grand pas de deux. The sojourn does not last forever, Marie and her Prince must leave the Land of Sweets again …
Awakening and Knowing
Looking for Marie whose was empty, the mother finds her daughter asleep on the sofa in the parlour – holding her wooden Nutcracker in her arm. Marie awakes, at first slightly confused but, despite her mother’s doubts, is certain that she experienced last night’s adventures. And she has proof …
Unnoticed by anyone, somebody is watching over the scene with a sparkle in his eyes from his place on the grandfather clock: Drosselmeier.