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Tchaikovsky's second and longest ballet failed to take off in the composer's lifetime but is now a worldwide favourite.
Tchaikovsky's second ballet was premiered in 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. It is his longest ballet, lasting nearly three hours without intervals.
Despite being aware that his Swan Lake had met with little enthusiasm, Tchaikovsky enthusiastically accepted the commission to write a ballet based on Charles Perrault's La Belle au bois dormant via a version by the Brothers Grimm.
Tchaikovsky's ballet focussed in on the two main conflicting forces of good - the Lilac Fairy - and evil - Carabosse. Each has their own theme, which runs through the entire work, providing a thread to the plot. Act III however takes a complete break from the two motifs and instead places focus on the individual characters at the various court dances.
At the première, Tsar Alexander III summoned Tchaikovsky to the imperial box and made the simple remark 'Very nice,' which seemed to have irritated the composer, who was probably expecting more effusive appreciation.
The ballet's premiere received more favourable accolades than Swan Lake from the press but Tchaikovsky sadly did not live long enough to witness his work become an instant success in theatres outside of Russia. Many of his best tunes were later turned into songs in the Walt Disney animated feature version, made in 1959.