Whether at the theatre or at the movies, at the traditional Christmas market or on our own Christmas tree, the annual appearance of the nutcracker seems omnipresent. What makes this figure so symbolic and why is it so popular, especially among adults? Is it the product of a cultural ritual that engenders the feeling of belonging or nostalgia that gives us warm memories? Is it one of the seasonal manifestations of our cultural memory, our sense of duty to preserve cultural heritage, or our curiosity to rediscover the centuries-old wisdom encoded in fairytale characters? Maybe it’s a little bit of all that.
As a wooden figure, the Nutcracker gained in importance in Bavaria, South Tyrol and Thuringia as early as the 18th century. Carved in the Ore Mountains, he enjoyed great popularity in the 19th century as a toy assuming the role of cuirassiers, gendarmes and kings. But the Nutcracker gained its widespread social recognition through the Christmas fairy tale Nutcracker and Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann, published in 1816, and has been an integral part of the advent symbolism ever since.
A young man transformed into a nutcracker by the mouse witch Mauserinks is hunted by her seven-headed son, the Mouse King, and his mouse army. This was an act of revenge after the young man succeeded to crack the hard nut Krakatuk and by doing so, disenchanted princess Pirlipat, who had also been defaced by Mauserinks. Becoming a person again would only ensue if the Nutcracker would find true love, despite its unattractive appearance. This becomes possible thanks to Marie, the goddaughter of a high-court councillor named Drosselmeier, who happens to be the uncle of the young man turned into a nutcracker, and who had previously discovered the magical power of the hard nut Krakatuk for the disenchantment of Pirlipat. Marie takes the Nutcracker into her care. She rescues him after witnessing how the Mouse King and his army attack the Nutcracker one night. She helps the Nutcracker defeat the Mouse King and then follows him to the Kingdom of Sweets, where she can disenchant him with her love. They marry and Marie becomes the Princess of Sweets.
The fairy tale enjoyed great resonance among statesmen, psychoanalysts and writers alike. As Histoire d’un casse-noisette, it was adapted by Alexandre Dumas, which served as a basis for the libretto of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet. The Nutcracker became a popular theme for a number of other works for children and adults. Hoffmann’s legacy entered several intellectual streams since romanticism, recognisable in the works of Gustave Flaubert, Honoré de Balzac, Sigmund Freud, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky and notably the representatives of gothic fiction. In our fairy tale for adults, we turn to the question of what makes this figure so symbolic and almost indispensable as Christmas symbolism. The Nutcracker assimilates family idyll romance, nostalgia, cultural memory, Christmas harmony and the sense of community alike. But above all, the Nutcracker is the metaphorical appearance of recurring longing. Longing for the time when mere dreams dominated all our possessions.
Hoffmann paints a dream world for us with a literary virtuosity that we enjoy with all our senses: artefacts made of sugar almonds and raisins, streams and lakes made of honey and almond milk, fountain made of lemonade, houses and castles made of gingerbread and marzipan, jam groves with wonderfully fragrant trees. It is the dream world that we seek to recreate every year through magically decorated showcases, markets, streets, walls and trees. But it is much more important what this dream world stands for and how it is perceived by us. It is the imaginary world that we faced as adolescent dreamers, even before we could plunge into its realization. We knew this world was a hard nut to crack. A real Krakatuk. But all it takes to crack it the pursuit of a dream. And as soon as one day we dare the first step into the realization of this dream world and crack our Krakatuk, a relentless struggle with the challenges of everyday life begins in its seven-headed time units. This takes so much of our strength that our dream world gradually shrinks, but the greater the longing to return the everyday mechanism to the starting position. Then we realize that dreaming never ends. To stand in front of the Krakatuk again is the state that gives us new strength to construct a dream world again, in which we hear ‘the babbling and wonderful tones and melodies’, see ‘thousands of golden and silver sparkling little stars’ and smell ‘fragrant rose waves’.
We welcome you to our fairy tale. We invite you to accompany us in a magic ritual in which we let the world of our dreams and memories light up again. This evening takes place in a very special place. A place where our cultural heritage can be felt, touched, tangibly and authentically experienced. A place that protects our cultural memory like a firewall from the flames of time. A place that immerses us in the magic of history. A fairytale place that can tell stories. About counts, kings and ... Nutcrackers.
Soprano: Helene Bernardy, Conservatoire de la Ville de Luxembourg
Tenor: Marc Dostert, Conservatoire de la Ville de Luxembourg
Piano: Tatsiana Molakava, Conservatoiwre de la Ville de Luxembourg
Dance: Victoria Tvardovskaya and Susanne Wessel, Luxembourg Ballet
Special guest: Uladzimir Ivanou, Czech National Opera
Director and choreographer: Volha Kastsel, Luxembourg Ballet
With the financial support of:
Ministry of Culture, Luxembourg
BGL BNP Paribas
Les Amis du Château de Vianden asbl