The Fountain of Bakhchisarai

The Fountain of Bakhchisarai

"The Fountain of Bakhchisarai" (Russian Бахчисарайский фонтан) is a ballet based on the 1823 poem by Alexander Pushkin with the same title [ [ The poem in Russian] ] [ [ The poem in English] ] . The musical score was written by Boris Asafiev and it was first choreographed by Rostislav Zakharov. The piece premiered in St Petersburg, (then Leningrad) in 1934 at the Kirov Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (now Mariinsky Theatre).

Bakhchisarai is a place in the Crimea, near Yalta. The fountain in the poem really exists in the Bakhchisarai Palace that was built originally in the sixteenth century, have been destroyed and rebuilt a few times since. The fountain is called the Fountain of Tears.


The three main characters of the piece are Khan Girey, a Tatar khan living in the Bakhchisarai palace, Zarema, his first wife in his harem and Maria, a Polish noblewoman. The ballet starts at the palace, showing the Khan and his court. The dancers try to entertain the khan but he is oblivious of his surroundings. He just watches the water trickling in a fountain. The scene changes and we are back in time, in the Polish palace of Maria's family. They are having a ball, apparently Maria is being engaged by a young Polish nobleman. However, Tatars are lurking around, scaling the fence and then attacking the guests. After a vicious fight, in which the Khan kills Maria's fiance, the palace is torched and the Tatars loot the place and capture the women to take them back to the harem. When they capture Maria and the Khan rips the scarf that she uses to hide her face, the Khan is meshmerised by her beauty. The scene changes again and we are back in the Khan's court. The Tartar warriors are arriving back. Zarema, who loves the Khan is happy to see him back but the Khan ignores her and focuses his attention on Maria. Maria is led to her chambers where the Khan visits her. Maria is appaled by the Khan's advances and refuses him. After some struggle he leaves, but his hat, that has fallen off, remains in the room. When the Khan returns to the court, Zarema wants to get his attention by dancing to him. The Khan rejects Zarema, who collapses in despair. During the night she leaves the harem and visits Maria in her chamber and offers her help to escape. However, when Zarema finds the Khan's hat in Maria's room, she becomes certain that she became the Khan's lover, draws a dagger and wants to kill her. Maria stands before Zarema and spreads her hands, showing Zarema that she'd rather choose death than the Khan, which stops Zarema from killing her. The Khan, who was woken up by a guard of the harem who had seen Zarema leaving, enters the room. Zarema thinks that the Khan came to spend the night with Maria and this pushes her over: she stabs Maria to death. The Khan draws his own dagger to kill Zarema, but she kneels down in front of him and offers her chest to the knife, just like Maria did. The Khan can not stab Zarema but commands his soldiers to take her away and later orders her execution. The scene changes again and we are back to the present seeing the Khan watching the fountain that we know he made built for the memory of Maria.

Popular Culture

The Stars of the Russian Ballet [ [ IMDB entry for the Stars of the Russian Ballet film] ] is a 1953 Soviet film production (available on DVD) that contains the Swan Lake, The Fountain of Bakhchisarai and The Flames of Paris. The main characters in The Fountain of Bakhchisarai are Galina Ulanova as Maria, Maya Plisetskaya as Zarema and Pyotr Gusev as the Khan. This is the only known recoding of Ulanova and Plisetskaya, who followed Ulanova as prima ballerina assoluta of the Bolshoi Theatre, dancing together.


Further Information

[ "Pushkin's effects on the Russian Ballet", PhD Thesis] with a detailed description of the history of this particular ballet and lots of background information on Russian ballet in general.

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