Spartacus, or Spartak, is a ballet by Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978). The work follows the exploits of Spartacus, the leader of the slave uprising against the Romans known as the Third Servile War, although the ballet's storyline takes considerable liberties with the historical record. Khachaturian composed the ballet in 1954. It was widely acclaimed by the critics as a masterpiece with Leonid Jacobson's choreography in Moscow in 1956. Khachaturian revised the ballet score in 1968 and it was choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich. It remains one of his best known works and is prominent within the repertoires of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre and other ballet companies in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Crassus – Roman consul
Spartacus – captive king of Thrace
Phrygia – wife of Spartacus
Aegina – concubine to Crassus
The Roman consul Crassus returns to Rome from his latest conquests in a triumphal procession. Among his captives is the Thracian king Spartacus and his wife Phrygia. Spartacus laments his captivity and bids a bitter farewell to Phrygia, who is taken off to join Crassus’s harem of concubines. To entertain Crassus and his entourage, Spartacus is sent into the gladiatorial ring and is forced to kill a close friend. Horrified at his deed, Spartacus incites his fellow captives to rebellion.
The escaped captives celebrate their freedom. Meanwhile, Crassus entertains the Roman patricians with a lavish entertainment, including fights between blindfolded gladiators. The seductive Aegina incites a sexual orgy. Spartacus and his men disrupt the orgy and rescue the slave women, including Phrygia. The insulted Aegina insists that Crassus pursue the slave army immediately. The lovers celebrate their escape to the familiar “Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia.”
Aegina discovers Spartacus’s camp and observes the lovers emerging from their tent the next morning. Aegina sends word to Crassus, who sends his army in pursuit. Internecine struggles break out among Spartacus’s forces. Finally, Crassus’s forces discover Spartacus and impale him upon their spears. Spartacus’s closest followers recover his body and carry it off while Phrygia mourns her loss.
Khachaturian extracted and arranged music from the ballet in 1955 for three orchestral suites:
Part of the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia (the opening piece in Suite No. 2) was used as the opening theme for the UK television series The Onedin Line, as well as in the film Caligula, the main love theme in the film Mayerling, and in Joel and Ethan Coen's movie The Hudsucker Proxy. It also featured in the 2006 animated film Ice Age 2: The Meltdown.