The ballet was premiered by the Ballets Russes in Paris on 25 June 1910 conducted by Gabriel Pierné. Even before the first performance, the company sensed a huge success in the making; and every performance of the ballet in that first production, as Karsavina recalled, met a "crescendo" of success. The critics were ecstatic, praising the ballet for what they perceived as an ideal symbiosis between decor, choreography and music: "The old-gold vermiculatino of the fantastic back-cloth seems to have been invented to a formula identical with that of the shimmering web of the orchestra" enthused Henri Ghéon in Nouvelle revue française (1910). The scenery was designed by Alexander Golovine and the costumes by Leon Bakst.
For Stravinsky, it was a major breakthrough both with the public and with the critics, Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi in particular hailing Stravinsky as the legitimate heir to The Mighty Handful.
The Firebird's success also secured Stravinsky's position as Diaghilev's star composer, and there were immediate talks of a sequel, leading to the composition of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.
Stravinsky used principle themes from works by Rimsky-Korsakov in his score. Kashchei's "Infernal Dance" borrows the highly chromatic scale Rimsky-Korsakov created for the character Chernobog in his opera Mlada. The Khorovod dance, meanwhile, uses the same folk tune Rimsky-Korsakov presented in his "Sinfonietta" Opus. 31.