Scene I: Deep in a Dark Wood
Odette, a young maiden, is in the forest. The evil knight Rothbart appears and captures her, turning her into a white swan. She is cursed to remain a swan during the day, and a maiden at night.
Scene II: A Royal Hunt at the Edge of the Wilderness
Later, the young Prince Siegfried and his entourage arrive in the forest and set up camp, celebrating the day’s hunt. The Queen calls her son aside and reminds him that tomorrow is an important day. She introduces him to four eligible young princesses, but he is distant and uninterested. The Queen sternly warns him that this is the last night of his youth and that he must soon take on the responsibility of adulthood. Upset, Siegfried decides to leave the camp and venture out into the woods alone.
Scene III: In the Forest
Deep in the forest that evening along the edge of the lake, Siegfried sees a young maiden. She is beautiful, and he falls instantly in love. However, she is terrified, and begs him to leave, to no avail. Charmed by his bravery, Odette finds herself falling in love with him. As the sun begins to rise, the evil knight Rothbart summons Odette. She goes to him and is transformed into a swan and flies away. Soon thereafter, a large flock of swans lands on the lake. Siegfried’s friend and some hunters from the royal party see the flock and prepare to shoot, but the Prince intervenes and orders them to leave. Siegfried notices that one of the swans is Odette and he professes his love to her.
The Ballroom of the Castle
The next night, the Queen hosts a ball and presents eligible princesses to her son, but the Prince pays little attention. Suddenly, Rothbart and a maiden dressed in black arrive. It is Odile. She is the mirror image of Odette. The Prince is smitten with the mysterious woman in black and begs his mother to consider the new arrival. Siegfried and Odile dance and he proclaims his love for her. The Prince tells his mother that he wants to marry Odile. Just then, Siegfried sees Odette in the crowd. She is horrified by the betrayal and runs out. The prince runs to Odile and realizes that she is one of Rothbart’s swans and that he has been fooled. The devastated prince chases Rothbart as he flees the court.
By the Lake in the Forest
The Prince arrives at the edge of the lake in the forest and begs the distraught Odette for forgiveness. The sun comes up and the maidens turn back into swans in the morning mist. Before long, Rothbart and his black swans appear and he summons all of the swans, including Odette. The Prince, desperate to be with his love, grabs his crossbow to kill Rothbart. The Prince shoots, but his arrow hits Odette instead. Rothbart holds Odette in his arms but when she falls, she is a maiden. The spell Rothbart cast on Odette is broken, and the Prince runs to her. Odette, as a woman, dies in the Prince’s arms. He picks up her body and walks into the lake, drowning himself. Young maidens appear from the forest, forever changed.