#Throwback Thursday: Coppelia

Today's #Throwback Thursday focuses on Coppelia. The comic ballet premiered on 25 May 1870 at the Theatre Imperial l'Opera in Paris. The title came from the Greek kopelia, meaning 'girl' or 'young lady'. The libretto was written by Charles-Louis-Etienne Nuitter, and was based upon two stories by E.T.A. Hoffman: Der Sandmann (The Sandman) and Die Puppe (The Doll).

The Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2014

The ballet begins during a festival in a small town, when the town crier announces that anyone who marries during the festival will be rewarded with a present of money. Village youths Swanhilda and Franz plan to marry during the festival.

The villagers dance at the festival

But Franz becomes distracted by a new girl by the name of Coppelia, who is sitting motionless and reading on a nearby balcony. The house belongs to the mysterious inventory Dr. Coppelius. Franz, mesmerised by Coppelia's beauty, attempts to attract her attention but fails. An upset Swanhilda shakes an ear of wheat by her ear: if it rattles, she will know that Franz loves her, but she hears nothing. Franz doesn't hear anything either, but pretends he does. Swanhilda doesn't believe him and runs away heartbroken.

Swanhilda is jealous while Franz is distracted by Coppelia, RNZB 2014

Later that evening, Dr. Coppelius is accosted by a group of young men outside his house; they do nothing but heckle and Coppelius manages to shoo them off. He realises that he has dropped his keys somewhere and cannot find them; Swanhilda picks them up instead. Swanhilda decides to find out more about the mysterious Coppelia and she and her friends sneak inside. Meanwhile, Franz has snuck into Coppelia's room by climbing the balcony.

Franz and Swanhilda dance

Swanhilda and her friends find themselves in a large room full of people, but none of them are moving. The girls discover that all of the 'people' are actually dolls, which they wind up. The various dolls dance for the girls. Swanhilda finds Coppelia hidden behind a curtain and realises she is just a doll.

Swanhilda inspects the doll Coppelia

Dr. Coppelius returns to find the girls in his workshop and gets angry at them for disturbing his dolls. He kicks the girls out and begins tidying up, only to spot Franz peering in at the window. The old man invites him in.

Dr. Coppelius and his beloved doll

Dr. Coppelius wants to bring his beloved Coppelia to life, and to do that, he needs a human sacrifice. He plans to use a magic spell to transfer the life of Franz to Coppelia. Dr. Coppelius gives Franz some wine laced with sleeping powder and Franz falls asleep. The inventor readies his spell.

Lucy Green and Sir John Trimmer, RNZB, 2014

But Swanhilda is still there, hidden behind the curtains with Coppelia. She dresses up in Coppelia's clothing, hiding the doll and pretending she has come to life. She wakes Franz. They wind up the dolls to distract Coppelius while they escape. Dr. Coppelius becomes greatly upset when he finds the real Coppelia lifeless behind the curtains.

Dr. Coppelius believes Coppelia has come alive

Swanhilda forgives Franz and the two prepare to be married. But an angry Dr. Coppelius arrives and claims that Swanhilda and Franz must pay for the damage they caused. Swanhilda offers him her dowry but Franz refuses to let her give it up and offers to pay Dr. Coppelius himself. The mayor intervenes and gives Dr. Coppelius a bag of money which placates him. Swanhilda and Franz are married and the town celebrates.

Franz and Swanhilda dance at their wedding

Coppelia was choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon to music by Leo Delibes. The costumes were designed by Paul Lormier and Alfred Albert, and the scenery was by Charles-Antoine Cambon, Edouard Desplechin, and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre. At the first performance, Coppelia was played by the sixteen year old Giuseppina Bozzacchi. The ballet was immensely popular, but its success was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the resulting Siege of Paris, which also deprived the ballet of its star, Giuseppina Bozzacchi, who died on her 17th birthday.

Guiseppina Bozzacchi, dressed for Act I, 1870

All modern productions are derived from the performance choreographed by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg. The production was notated using the Stepanov method, and this was used to stage the production for companies such as the Vic-Wells Ballet.

In 1939, the San Francisco Ballet staged the first production of the ballet in America, choreographed by Willam Christensen. It starred Willam Christensen as Franz, Earl as Dr. Coppelius, and Janet Reed as Swanhilda. It was an instant hit. George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova later staged a production in 1974, for the New York City Ballet. Danilova staged the original Petipa choreography for Act II, while Balanchine created new choreography for Act III and small portions of Act I. Patricia McBride starred as Swanhilda, with Helgi Tomasson as Franz and Shaun O'Brian as Dr. Coppelius.

Lucy Green and Kohei Iwamoto, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2014

Coppelia continues to be a popular ballet around the world, and is an instant classic in every ballet's repertoire. Here's Natalia Osipova dancing the wedding variation from Act III:

- Selene

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