Synopsis: The Nutcracker Ballet

November 29, 2006

Based on a book by E.T.A. Hoffman, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816), and Alexandre Dumas’ revision of the story, The Nutcracker (1844)

Music composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
Premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in December 1892.
Premiered in the US at the San Francisco Ballet in December 1944.


Years ago, Drosselmeyer, an inventor and toy maker, made traps that killed most of the mice in a royal palace. The Queen of the Mice, her heart filled with rage and desire for revenge for the death of her family, cast a spell over Drosselmeyer's nephew. The spell turned him into an ugly Nutcraker doll. The only way to break the spell is for the Nutcracker to slay the Mouse King and win the heart of a young girl, despite his hideous appearance.

Act I

Drosselmeyer arrives at the home of his friends, the Stahlbaums, who are giving a Christmas party. During the festivities, Drosselmeyer brings out his ingenious toy creations to the delight of the children. However, he puts his most special doll, the Nutcracker, in the loving care of Clara. Clara’s brother, Fritz, a rambunctious child as some boys can be, taunts the young girl, damaging the Nutcracker doll in the process. Drosselmeyer quickly intervenes to repair the doll.

After the party and when the house is still and dark, Clara tiptoes downstairs in search of her Nutcracker. Drosselmeyer is there and as the clock strikes midnight, frightening mice begin to scurry about. Just when Clara thinks things couldn’t get any worse, the Mouse King appears.

A fight ensues between the mice and the toy soldiers. All seems hopeless until Clara takes off her slipper and flings it at the enemy. This distraction gives the Nutcracker the opportunity he needs to slay the Mouse King. Drosselmeyer’s nephew emerges from his imprisonment in the Nutcracker; he is at last free.

Act II

Drosselmeyer then sends his nephew and Clara on a magical journey through the Land of Snow to the Kingdom of Sweets where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. The nephew recounts to the Sugar Plum Fairy his great adventure and how Clara saved his life. They are then entertained by a wonderful array of guests from around the world who have come to honor the two for their bravery.

Some ballets end here, others continue with Clara returning to reality. She then meets a strangely familiar boy proving that the adventure was real. Also, in the various Nutcracker productions throughout the world, Clara may be a child or a teenager and may be named Marie, Clara or Masha (as in the Russian versions).

See also:

Upcoming performances of The Nutcracker in Europe »

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