In the last years before he died, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's usual bad luck in the theater changed, thanks mainly to the help and support of Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the imperial theaters. Vsevolozhsky proposed a new ballet in 1886, but it was not until December, 1888, that the composer began work on The Sleeping Beauty, with a scenario by Vsevolozhsky and choreographer Marius Petipa, based on Charles Perrault's version of the classic fairytale. Once launched, however, he proceeded quickly, working closely with Petipa, sketching the ballet in about 40 days. Tchaikovsky had the score completed by the fall of 1889, and the work was premiered at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in January, 1890.
It was a success - "quite nice" was the Tsar's assessment - though as much for the glittering staging and stellar cast as for the sumptuous music. The central forces operating in the story are Carabosse, the evil fairy of the curse and despair, and the Lilac Fairy, representing life and hope. Tchaikovsky sets up two sharply contrasting themes for them in his short prelude, a furious, wickedly honed assault for Carabosse, and a soft, radiant tune for the Lilac Fairy, full of harp glissandos and lulling strings. This goes directly into a march for the entrance of the guests to the christening of Princess Aurora, a regal ceremonial set piece which also includes darker forebodings.
- John Henken is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Director of Publications.