Note on “The Nutcracker”

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the following images or video!!

One of my favorite operas is Jacques Offenbach‘s The Tales of Hoffmann (Les contes d’Hoffmann). This opera is a fantastical retelling of the life of the German Romantic author E. T. A. Hoffmann,  casting Hoffmann as the protagonist of his own stories.

Placido Domingo performing the “Chanson de Kleinzach” aria.

Désirée Rancatore performing “Les oiseaux dans la charmille.”

Through The Tales of Hoffmann, I developed an interest in Hoffmann and his stories, quickly leading me to Sigmund Freud’s The Uncanny. In Freud’s essay, he uses many of the same Hoffmann stories as Offenbach, but in this case to prove a psychological point (not that Offenbach’s opera isn’t deeply psychological). If I remember correctly, Freud even mentions Offenbach’s opera.

Portrait of E. T. A. Hoffmann

I’m sure you are all wondering, “What does all this have to do with The Nutcracker?” Well, little do most people know, E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote in 1816 one of the earliest versions of The Nutcracker story, entitled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Nussknacker und Mausekönig).

Alexandre Dumas was also a fan of Hoffmann, employing allusions to Hoffmann’s stories in The Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas even went as far as creating a revision to Hoffmann’s Nutcracker in 1844 called History of The Nutcracker (Histoire d’un casse-noisette), or The Tale of the Nutcracker.

9780143104834

Towards the end of the 19th Century, Hoffmann’s Nutcracker was adapted to ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, perhaps the most famous incarnation of the tale. I write this post because my dad purchased tickets to the San Francisco Ballet to see The Nutcracker at the end of the month. Perhaps later I’ll add my thoughts on the production to this post.

Tchaikovsky’s music is always wonderful, if not a little too overplayed for the holidays. A lot of people tend to associate The March from The Nutcracker or The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy not with Tchaikovsky, but with the thousands of Christmas commercials that use these pieces. This also happens with The Chinese Tea Dance from The Nutcracker with Disney’s Fantasia and The Sleeping Beauty Waltz with Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

I believe the most creative and exciting production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is Mark Morris’s The Hard Nut. The Hard Nut is set in 1950s America with a very retro feel inspired by the comic artist Charles Burns — a strange but brilliant compliment to the classical music. I hope to one day be able to attend a live performance.

Advertisement for The Hard Nut.

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Copyright 2012 by G. E. Gallas

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About gegallas

G. E. Gallas is a screenwriter and graphic novelist (writer/illustrator) best known for "The Poet and the Flea," a fantastical reimagining of the life of the poet-painter William Blake. Originally from Washington D.C., she spent her year abroad in Tokyo, Japan and graduated from New York University: Gallatin School of Individualzed Study with a major involving cross-cultural storytelling. Spring 2013, she attended the Cannes International Film Festival and spoke upon invitation to The Blake Society, London. February 2014, her illustrations will be featured in the young adult title "Scared Stiff: Everything You Need To Know About 50 Famous Phobias." View all posts by gegallas

13 responses to “Note on “The Nutcracker”

  • Mr. Wapojif

    Well I went and learned something this evening, I did! I must admit I’ve never read any Alexandre Dumbass before (to steal the Shawshank Redemption joke). I will now, however.

    I certainly love classical music, though. Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Paganini, Vivaldi, Pachelbel, Bach, Dvorak… ah, the music of maniac geniuses! In fact, your mission tonight, Mz. Gegallass, is to head over to YouTube and listen to Vivaldi’s “La Follia”. If you haven’t already. As the English say; “Itz reet gud dat innit.”

    • gegallas

      Yay, I’m glad you learned something from my rant. :) I’m a great Alexandre Dumas fan! “Monte Cristo” is very long, but well worth the read (adaptations never do it justice, except for surprisingly the anime version called “Gankutsuou”).

      I grew up with classical music, so it’s nice knowing someone who likes it as well. Ah, yes — Vivaldi’s “La Follia” is very exciting!

      I’m not sure if it would be your cup of tea, but someone put my all-time favorite classical music CD up on YouTube in its entirety. The pieces of cellist and composer David Popper performed by János Starker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUbNhFujSPA

      Best regards,

      G. E.

      • Mr. Wapojif

        Excellent – I have always thought I should read The Count of MC. So I shall. Also, I are going to listen now during my working day (this is allowed, donut worry, I shall nae be fired for this activity). I shall report back another thyme. In return I COMMAND you to watch this:

        It’s a silly take on Pachelbel’s Canon in Z. Aimed at children, obviously, but it takes super talent to manage. The guy on the far left is Ara Malikian who is an incredible Violin Playing Dude (VPD).

        Peace and vegetables,

        Mr. Wapojif.

      • gegallas

        Awww, they’re cute! :D –G. E.

      • Mr. Wapojif

        They are groovy dudes! Mercy buckets for your link one enjoyed it muchly at work. I particularly took to the piece at 10 minutes-ish. There was only one problem with it and it was this; not enough Arnold Schwarzenegger. A running commentary from him would have been superb; “And now the musician is playing what I think is the piano, but it could be an explosive dynamite stick of death. If it bleeds, we can kill it. I’ll be back. And now he violin and terror.”

      • gegallas

        I’m glad you like the Popper CD! Ha ha ha, I would be extremely worried in Arnold started narrating classical music. :D –G. E.

  • tadethompson

    I adore Tchaikovsky.
    Also, I was not aware that Dumas wrote about the Nutcracker.
    Wow.

  • Ship's Cook

    English National Balet always used to put on a cracking (see what I did there) perfomance of that at the London Colisseum at christmas (havn’t been for a while it’s got so expensive today), we were also lucky enough to see the Kirov perform parts in st Petersburg the other year. I also saw a great performance of Hoffman at the Royal Opera House many years ago. Great fan of both composers along with Bizet, Mahler and Janacek. The most bizarre production I ever saw was English National Opera’s Princess Ida (Gilbert and Sullivan) which was produced by film director Ken Russell (women in Love, The Music Lovers, Tommy, the Devils, Lair of the White worm), but I generally enjoyed ENO’s productions more than those of the ROH as they had much more imaginative set and costume design. The Mexican car lot version of Carmen was particularly good as was the 1920’s spa version of the Mikado.

    • gegallas

      Wow, you’re making me jealous with all those awesome performances you’ve been too, ha ha ha!! :D This is going to sound silly, but my dream wedding/honeymoon is to go on a Viking River Cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow and, of course, see an opera in St. Petersburg. One of my other favorite opera’s is Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” which I’ve been dying to see performed live. Also a great fan of Gilbert & Sullivan, especially “The Mikado,” and absolutely love the film “Topsy-Turvy” (1999). Funny you should mention Ken Russell since I’ve been reading Bram Stoker’s “Lair of the White Worm” and was wondering about the movie. Many thanks for your awesome comment! –G. E.

  • soonie2

    I just learned so many new interesting things from you! Great post! Love opera, especially Mozart and Verdi operas.

    • gegallas

      Yay, I’m glad you enjoyed my post! So great discovering all these opera fans on WordPress. :D Mozart will always have a special place in my heart — in elementary school, we had a speech assignment where we were supposed to be a historical figure and I dressed up as Mozart and even played one of his pieces on my cello ha ha ha. Verdi is brilliant too! I have this amazing CD box set of Placido performing all of Verdi’s tenor arias. Thanks for your comment! Best, G. E.

  • Brief Update « G. E. Gallas

    [...] Went to see The Nutcracker with family (“Note on The Nutcracker“). [...]

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