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The Nutcracker Suite



By Tim Hazell

The Nutcracker was a two-act ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Op. 71). The libretto was adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” The 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the original production has enjoyed enormous popularity, far outstripping the ballet’s original financial performance.

Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840, in Vyatka, Russia. His work was first publicly performed in 1865. Following the well-received premiere of his First Symphony in 1868, he had firmly established his reputation with Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor by 1874. He resigned from the Moscow Conservatory in 1878 and spent the rest of his career composing prolifically until his death in St Petersburg on November 6, 1893.

After the success of the composer’s The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, Imperial Theaters Director Ivan Vsevolozhsky commissioned from Tchaikovsky 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 to adapt for the ballet was itself an adaptation by Alexandre Dumas of Hoffmann’s original story. Dumas’s version was called “The Story of a Nutcracker.”

Tchaikovsky’s 25-day visit to the US to conduct concerts for the opening of Carnegie Hall interrupted the work’s completion. He composed parts of The Nutcracker in Rouen, France. The ballet opened together with Iolanta on December 18, 1892, at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. It would be Tchaikovsky’s last opera.

The first performance of The Nutcracker was not deemed a success. Reception was better for Tchaikovsky’s score; some critics called it “astonishingly rich in detailed inspiration.” The opus has become one of his most famous works. 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.”

The ballet’s first complete US performance was on December 24, 1944, by the San Francisco Ballet, staged by its artistic director, Willam Christensen. 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 with score at Christmas eventually spread to the rest of the US.

Russian cuisine has influenced Eastern Europe. Try this refreshing Russian-inspired salad on a summer afternoon!

Russian Tomato Salad


1 onion, thinly sliced

3 tomatoes, seeded and julienned

2–3 green bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced (substitute cucumber)

1 cup sour cream or thick yogurt

1 tbsp chopped fresh dill





In a medium bowl, toss together the onion, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Blend the sour cream and dill together in a small bowl. Lightly fold into the salad mixture. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve


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