The Phoenix

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Tamara Karsawina as a firebird, 1910

The Firebird ( Russian Жар-птица / Zhar-Ptiza , French L'Oiseau de feu ) is a ballet in two acts with music by Igor Stravinsky based on the libretto by Michel Fokine . The world premiere took place on June 25, 1910 in the Paris Théatre National de l´Opéra by the Ballets Russes ensemble . The music for the Firebird is considered to be a trend-setting work at the beginning of the 20th century.

Plot and libretto

The plot is based on the two Russian folk tales The Firebird with the figure of the fairy tale hero Ivan Tsarevich and The Magician Kastschej with the mythological figure of the immortal Koschtschei . The young Prince Ivan hunts the firebird and gets into the garden of the magician. He catches the bird on the miracle tree, which complains and asks for its freedom. When the prince grants him this, he receives a feather as a thank you, which has magical powers and which, in danger, calls the firebird.

Thirteen virgins, held captive by the magician Kastschej, come into the garden and dance around the tree. Among them is the princess Tsarevna, with whom Ivan falls madly in love. Threatening signals herald the appearance of Kastschej and his demons. They harass Ivan Tsarevich and want to kill him. In dire need he calls the firebird with the feather he has given. He comes and forces Kastschej and the demons to dance with magical music and then sings them to a deep sleep with a song.

The firebird shows Ivan the giant egg hidden in a cave under the roots of the wonder tree, in which Kastschej keeps his soul. The prince breaks the egg, the magician's power fades and he dies. His captive and petrified victims are now set free, including the thirteen virgins. Princess Tsarevna and Ivan Tsarevich are united.


Alexander Golowin: Draft for the set of the firebird
Reconstruction of the world premiere by the Mariinsky Ballet at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival 2013

The work was commissioned by Sergei Pawlowitsch Djagilew for the Ballets Russes , with which the success achieved by the company in Paris in 1909 was to be built on. Originally, Anatoly Lyadow was planned for the composition , but since he hesitated to accept, Djagilev handed the commission to Igor Stravinsky, who was largely unknown at the time, in December 1909. The scenic plot, the libretto, was created by Michel Fokine , one of the most important dancers and choreographers of the Ballets Russes. The combination of Russian fairy tale tradition with effective stage appearances, such as the shining firebird, the wonder tree, the giant egg and double-headed monsters, had a great impact on the Parisian audience. In the criticism, the ballet was described as a "glittering, sensual appearance", underlined by a "lush, colorful decor" and the "music that shimmered in all timbres".

The world premiere on June 25, 1910 at the Théatre National de l´Opéra in Paris was conducted by Gabriel Pierné , the equipment was provided by Alexander Golowin and Léon Bakst . Tamara Karsavina danced the firebird , Fokine himself danced Ivan Tsarevich, his wife Vera Fokina the Princess Tsarewna and Enrico Cecchetti the magician Kastschej.

Stravinsky later made several versions of the score for concert performances:

  • 1911 Suite No. 1 for orchestra
  • 1919 Suite No. 2 for orchestra
  • 1945 ballet suite for orchestra

Further productions

  • 1921: Choreography Fyodor Lopukhov in Leningrad with the original stage sets;
  • 1949: Choreography George Balanchine
  • 1954: Choreography by Sergei Grigoryev and Lyubov Tschernitschew for the London Sadler's Wells Ballet
  • 1970: Choreography Maurice Béjart with the Brussels Ballet of the 20th Century in a different version: the Firebird became a revolutionary and leader of a group of proletarian fighters


  • In the Disney feature film Fantasia 2000 , the composition is used for one of the short music films there.
  • The 1975 film The Humpbacked Horse by Iwan Iwanow-Wano is about the young Ivan who finds happiness thanks to a hunchbacked horse. One of the main strands in the story is the capture of a dancing firebird to be given as a gift to the Tsar after he saw one of the bird's feather. Also, through Ivan, the Tsar later owns the most beautiful woman in the world, whom Ivan becomes a wife after defeating the Tsar.
  • The British rock group Yes has been using the final part of the work as an intro for their concerts since the 70s. This is documented z. B. on their live album Yessongs .
  • Isao Tomita released the album "Firebird" in 1976, which contains the Firebird Suite on the A side in a synthesizer arrangement typical of Tomita .
  • Manfred Mann's Earth Band used a firebird theme as the basis for Starbird from the album The Roaring Silence .

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Eberhard Rebling: The great ballet lexicon. A guide through the world of ballet from A to Z , Heyne Verlag, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-453-41434-9 , p. 131