The principal dancers at the opening night were Carolina Rosati (Mummy/Aspicia), Nicholas Goltz (Pharaoh), Marius Petipa (Ta-Hor), and Lev Ivanov (Fisherman). The libretto was a collaboration between Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Petipa, partly after Théophile Gautier's Le Roman de la Momie. The music was composed by Cesare Pugni, while the design was by A. Roller, G. Wagner (scenery), Kelwer and Stolyakov (costumes).
Other productions include: Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (staged Petipa), with Praskovia Lebedeva as Aspicia, Moscow, 29 November (old style 17 November) 1864; Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (staged Aleksander Gorsky after Petipa), with Vasily Tikhomirov as the English Tourist (Taor/Lord Wilson) and Enrichetta Grimaldi as Vint-Anta (Aspicia), Moscow, 27 November 1905; a new production by Pierre Lacotte for the Bolshoi Ballet in 2000, which included only three reconstructed dances from Petipa's original choreography for the Grand Pas d'action of Act II.
The Sergeyev Collection, housed in the Harvard University Theatre Collection, contains choreographic notations of Petipa's 1898 production of The Pharaoh's Daughter for Mathilde Kschessinskaya. The notations document Petipa's choreography for the dances of the principal roles, while the rest of the choreography (i.e. for the corps de ballet and much of the action sequences) is only vaguely documented.
At the bottom of the river, the Spirit of the Nile summons the great rivers of the world to dance for Aspicia, then he tells her that she must stay. When she hears this, she asks for one wish; to bring her back to land. When the fishermen and Ta-Hor arrive back on land, the Nubian king detains Ta-Hor and brings him back to the Pharaoh's palace to be punished for "kidnapping" the princess.
When Aspicia comes back to land, the fishermen bring her back to the palace. She gets there in time to see Ta-Hor sentenced to death by a cobra bite. She explains that if he dies, she dies, and reaches out for the snake to bite her. The Pharaoh pulls her back and grants her permission to marry Ta-Hor, and the Nubain king leaves in a fit of rage, swearing revenge. Everyone starts to celebrate, but as the party reachs its peak, the opium dream ends and Ta-Hor is transformed back into the English lord. As they leave the pyramid, the nobleman looks back at Aspicia coffin and remembers the love that they shared and still share.
It was also a production of the choreographic trend parallel to that of the grand opera in music, towards the ballet à grand spectacle, which lasted four hours and used different styles and techniques and a large number of people (about 400), with plots characterized by strong dramatic contrasts.
Interest in ancient Egypt was revived by archaeological and political events- the discovery in 1851 by Auguste Mariette of the Serapeum at Memphis and the digging of the Suez Canal in 1859- and by the reports of the educated élite returning from the Grand Tour.
The ballet's literary source is Le Roman de la Momie by Théophile Gautier, the exponent of literary exoticism which offered all sorts of romantic expedients: the passionate love story of the great priest's daughter Tahoser and the Pharaoh set in a Biblical Egypt which, however, disappeared in the ballet, and the Gothic taste for gloomy corridors and dark tombs. What the ballet retains of Gautier's world is the sense of the fantastic which accompanies the most earthly passions. A fragment of the past or a puff of opium- a familiar influence in the works and lives of contemporary artists, such as De Quincey- gave Gautier the possibility of adding a brighter aura to his characters by setting them on the borderline between life and death from which all Egyptian art took nourishment.
So as not to overwhelm his readers with terror, Gautier frequently appeals to irony, which has an anticlimatic effect. Irony serves the same function in the ballet, for example in the moment when Lord Wilson, the quintessence of Englishness, impassively attempts to sketch the scene of the desert disturbed by the simoom, or when Aspicia, after rising from the sarcophagus, looks into a mirror and is pleased to find herself as pretty as she was a few millennia before.
The story called for an artist in the title role who had a special dramatic talent (as did Rosati), because of all the scenes of love, fear, and courage which culminated in Aspicia's attempt to cast herself onto a flower-basket hiding a snake, a classis gesture since Cleopatra's time. Twenty years later, Virginia Zucchi (less conventionally) portrayed an unusually humane princess, not as arrogant and voluptuous as that of her successor Mathilde Kschessinskaya who, on the other hand, made it more of a virtuoso role.
Petipa's penchant for folklore enhanced the dance of unlikely bayadères and the pageant of the rivers- from Guadalquivir to Neva- all dressed up in national costumes. But historical inaccuracy and mixing of styles raised- especially in Moscow- a few criticisms, in spite of the general taste for sets and costumes reinvented with a minimum of realism and a maximum of grandeur.