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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

The Nutcracker 胡桃夹子 くるみ割り人形

Updated: Jan 14

The Nutcracker, is an 1892 two-act "fairy ballet" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, set on Christmas Eve at the foot of a Christmas tree in a child's imagination. The plot is an adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffmann's 1816 short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

The story begins on Christmas Eve, at the Stahlbaum house. Marie, seven, and her brother, Fritz, sit outside the parlor speculating about what kind of present their godfather, Drosselmeyer, a clockmaker and inventor, has made for them. They receive splendid gifts; Drosselmeyer's turns out to be a clockwork castle with mechanical people moving around inside. However, the children quickly tire of it. Marie notices a nutcracker, and asks whom he belongs to. Her father tells her that he belongs to all of them, but since she is so fond of him she will be his special caretaker. She, Fritz, and their sister, Louise, pass him amongst themselves, cracking nuts, until Fritz tries to crack one that is too big and hard, and his jaw breaks. Marie, upset, bandages him with a ribbon from her dress.

When it is time for bed, the children put their Christmas gifts away in the special cabinet where they keep their toys. Marie begs to stay with the nutcracker a while longer, and she is allowed to do so. She tells him that Drosselmeyer will fix his jaw. At this, his face seems to come alive, and she is frightened, but decides it was her imagination.

The grandfather clock begins to chime, and Marie believes she sees Drosselmeyer sitting on top of it, preventing it from striking. Mice begin to come out from beneath the floorboards, including the seven-headed Mouse King. The dolls in the toy cabinet come alive, the nutcracker taking command and leading them into battle after putting Marie's ribbon on. The dolls are overwhelmed by the mice. Marie, seeing the nutcracker about to be taken prisoner, throws her slipper at the Mouse King. She then faints into the toy cabinet's glass door, cutting her arm badly.

Marie wakes up in her bed the next morning with her arm bandaged and tries to tell her parents about the battle between the mice and dolls, but they do not believe her. Several days later, Drosselmeyer arrives with the nutcracker, whose jaw has been fixed, and tells Marie the story of Princess Pirlipat and Madam Mouserinks, known as the Queen of the Mice, which explains how nutcrackers came to be and why they look the way they do.

The Mouse Queen tricked Pirlipat's mother into allowing her and her children to gobble up the lard that was supposed to go into the sausage that the King was to eat at dinner. The King, enraged at the Mouse Queen for spoiling his supper and upsetting his wife, had his court inventor, also named Drosselmeyer, create traps for the Mouse Queen and her children.

The Mouse Queen, angered at the death of her children, swore that she would take revenge on Pirlipat. Pirlipat's mother surrounded her with cats which were supposed to be kept awake by being constantly stroked. The nurses who did so fell asleep, however, and the Mouse Queen magically turned Pirlipat ugly, giving her a huge head, a wide grinning mouth, and a cottony beard like a nutcracker. The King blamed Drosselmeyer and gave him four weeks to find a cure. He went to his friend, the court astrologer.

They read Pirlipat's horoscope and told the King the only way to cure her was to have her eat the nut Crackatook (Krakatuk), which must be cracked and handed to her by a man who had never been shaved nor worn boots since birth, and who must, without opening his eyes, hand her the kernel and take seven steps backwards without stumbling. The King sent Drosselmeyer and the astrologer out to look for both.

The two men journeyed for many years without finding either the nut or the man, until finally they returned home to Nuremberg and found the nut with Drosselmeyer's cousin, a puppet-maker. His son turned out to be the young man needed to crack the nut Crackatook. The King promised Pirlipat's hand to whoever could crack the nut. Many men broke their teeth on it before Drosselmeyer's nephew cracked it easily and handed it to Pirlipat, who swallowed it and immediately became beautiful again. But Drosselmeyer's nephew, on his seventh backward step, stepped on the Mouse Queen and stumbled, and the curse fell on him, giving him a large head, wide mouth, and cottony beard; making him a nutcracker. The ungrateful and unsympathetic Pirlipat, seeing how ugly he had become, refused to marry him and banished him from the castle.

Marie, while she recuperates from her wound, hears the Mouse King, son of the deceased Madam Mouserinks, whispering to her in the middle of the night, threatening to bite the nutcracker to pieces unless she gives him her sweets and dolls. She sacrifices them, but he wants more and more. Finally, the nutcracker tells her that if she gets him a sword, he will kill the Mouse King. Fritz gives her the one from his toy hussars. The next night, the nutcracker comes into Marie's room bearing the Mouse King's seven crowns, and takes her to the doll kingdom, where she sees wonderful things. She falls asleep in the nutcracker's palace and is brought home. She tries to tell her mother what happened, but again she is not believed, even when she shows her parents the seven crowns, and is forbidden to speak of her "dreams" anymore.

Marie sits in front of the toy cabinet one day while Drosselmeyer is repairing one of her father's clocks. She swears to the Nutcracker that if he were ever really real she would never behave as Pirlipat did, and would love him whatever he looked like. At this, there is a bang and she faints and falls off the chair. Her mother comes in to tell her that Drosselmeyer's nephew has arrived from Nuremberg. He tells her that by swearing that she would love him in spite of his looks, she broke the curse and made him human again. He asks her to marry him. She accepts, and in a year and a day he comes for her and takes her away to the doll kingdom, where she is crowned queen.

Since the late 1960s, it has been danced by countless ballet companies, especially in North America. Major American ballet companies generate around 40% of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker.

Nutcracker story themed costumes are very popular during the Venice Carnevale.

Venice is a true Land of Amusements during Carnevale.

This is just a simple set of photos taken for my local Italian friends during Valentine's Day this year.

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