Prologue - The Lakeside
A group of friends are ending a picnic and a beautiful day at a scenic lake side. As the parties drift away, one girl is left behind, immersed in her book. A handsome gentleman passes by and introduces himself cordially, but she is wary and becomes frightened. The gentleman's demeanor transforms and he is revealed as the sorcerer Von Rothbart. The evil and serpentine Von Rothbart abducts the girl, pulling her into the lake as he casts his spell, transforming her into a swan.
Act I - The Castle Gardens
Prince Siegfried is celebrating his coming-of-age with friends and his longtime tutor. The Queen Mother appears, interrupting the festivities. She reminds Siegfried that he must select a bride the following evening at the grand ball held in his honor. Before departing, she presents Siegfried with a handsome crossbow for his birthday, reminding him again of his responsibilities.
The weight of this decision, and his trepidation, fills Siegfried with melancholy. Nevertheless, he joins his friends in dancing. As twilight falls, the young prince spots a flock of wild swans flying through the darkening sky. Avoiding thoughts of his impending dilemma, Siegfried wanders through the forest to the lakeside.
Von Rothbart appears through a mysterious mist on the lake. Siegfried arrives to hunt and Von Rothbart hides. Siegfried hears a noise and raises his crossbow, but lowers it when a beautiful swan appears. She wears a crown of white feathers and trembles with fear as she explains that she is Odette, the Swan Queen. Siegfried is mesmerized by her beauty and vulnerability, and reassures her that he means no harm. Odette tells him how Von Rothbart transformed her and her friends into swans. She explains that the lake was formed by the tears of her grief-stricken mother. The spell can be broken only when a young man pledges himself to Odette. Siegfried is overcome with desire and vows eternal love and fidelity to her. As dawn breaks, Von Rothbart reappears. Siegfried journeys home, resolved to rescue Odette, unaware that Von Rothbart has observed him.
Act III - The Castle Ballroom
Siegfried's coming-of-age ball commences and his friends dance in his honor. Six young princesses are introduced and many guests from distant lands perform, displaying their national pride. Enamored with Odette, Siegfried sullenly rejects all of the prospective young brides. Suddenly, a trumpet fanfare announces two unexpected guests. They are Von Rothbart and his daughter, Odile, who, through sorcery, has taken on the appearance of Odette. Dressed in black, Odile flirts brazenly with Siegfried. Believing that Odette has come to him in masquerade, Siegfried joyously selects Odile for his bride. The Queen Mother willingly approves and Von Rothbart demands that Siegfried profess his love for Odile. In doing so, Siegfried unknowingly breaks his vow to Odette. Von Rothbart reveals himself with malicious pleasure, knowing Odette and her friends will be forever enslaved as swans. The real Odette appears above them and Siegfried realizes the tragic deception.
Act IV - The Lake
Devastated by Siegfried's betrayal, Odette tells the swans they will forever be under Von Rothbart's spell. She wishes to die, but Siegfried rushes to her side, and begs for forgiveness, explaining passionately how he, too, succumbed to Von Rothbart's wickedness. Bound together by the power of love, Siegfried and Odette defy and destroy the venomous sorcerer. Yet, Odette and the swans still remain under his spell. Siegfried is distraught because Odette must return the lake. With nothing left to live for, he follows his true love to the lake and is overtaken by the waves.