What happens in Stravinsky's The Firebird?

We take a look at Stravinsky's dramatic ballet, performed in tonight's BBC Prom

What happens in Stravinsky's The Firebird?
Stravinsky's The Firebird

Though 1913's The Rite of Spring caused a greater kerfuffle, it was Stravinsky's The Firebird that really put the Russian composer on the map.

The ballet's 1910 premiere, on 25 June at Palais Garnier in Paris, was the first time that impresario Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes had presented the combined talents of Stravinsky, choreographer (and dancer) Mikhail Fokin, designer Léon Bakst and dancer Vaslav Nijinsky to a western audience. It was a huge success, acclaimed by critics and audience alike.

The ballet's plot tells the story of Prince Ivan who, lost, finds himself in the enchanted garden of the evil Kostcheï. There, he sees and is smitten by The Firebird. Though he tries to grab her, she makes her escape but gives him one of her feathers and tells him to wield it if ever he is in difficulty.

Ivan continues towards Kostcheï's castle, where he lingers in the pleasurable company of the beautiful Tsarevna. Too long, it would seem, as Kostcheï appears, and tries to turn the Prince into stone. Ivan waves the feather, at which point The Firebird reappears. The Prince is instructed to hurl a giant egg, containing Kostcheï's soul, to the ground, causing Kostcheï to die. Ivan and Tsarevna marry, to great rejoicing.

Our picture, above, shows Tamara Platonovna Karsavina as the Firebird and Mikhail Fokin as the Prince, 1913.


What's on at the Proms tonight?

Prom 16: Thursday 26 July, 7.30pm

Wagner Tannhäuser – overture
Debussy La damoiselle élue
Stravinsky Song of the Nightingale
Stravinsky The Firebird – suite (1945 version)

Hallé Choir
Hallé Youth Choir
Sir Mark Elder (conductor)

The Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

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