Finale, from Swan Lake
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Add the Swan Queen Odette and the enamoured Prince Siegfried to the storied list of famous lovers. The pair from Swan Lake – probably the most popular classical ballet of all time – portray yet another tale of tragic romance.
The difficulties they encounter are, well, beyond the pale, what with the extra difficulties of her being a swan and his being human! On top of which, there’s the evil Rothbart the Magician who has it in for Siegfried, continually tricking him, making him fall in love with someone he thinks is Odette but who isn’t, destroying his castle, and so on. It makes it more impossible than ever for Odette and Siegfried to get together. Rothbart is so angered by the end of the ballet that he causes the waters of the lake to roil and overflow the shores.
Musically, the Finale is a powerful and fitting ending to tonight’s affairs, driving to its conclusion with energy and panache, not at all inconclusive in its final powerful resolution (in B major, for those keeping track).
On the stage, however, the Finale has been interpreted in several different ways, perhaps even more appropriate than a completely unambiguous ending. In the “tragic” version, Siegfried and Odette (now in human form) are both drowned, underscoring the hopelessness of “true love.” In the “Hollywood” version (and interestingly, the preferred version in Eastern Europe for much of the 20th century), it is the power of the couple’s love that triumphs, breaking the spell of Rothbart and eventually drowning the magician in the torrent. Another alternate might be called the “Tristan ending,” as the couple find blissful union in the afterlife, secure from the forces of evil.
The ambiguity is fitting, really. Just as we are in love with love, we are also totally enamoured with not knowing how love really ends.
Composer Dave Kopplin, who holds a Ph.D. from UCLA, is Publications Coordinator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl. He also is a lecturer in music at Loyola Marymount University.