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#Throwback Thursday: Napoli

This week's #ThrowbackThursday is the Romantic ballet Napoli, or The Fisherman and His Bride.

Act I begins in the market. Teresina is waiting to meet her sweetheart, Gennaro, a poor man. Her mother, Veronica, disapproves and introduces Teresina to two other suitors in the hope she will leave Gennaro. These men are older but rich, Peppo the lemonade seller and Giacomo the macaroni seller; Teresina, to her mother's dismay, rejects them both and goes off to meet Gennaro. When his ship comes back into harbour, Gennaro and Teresina try to convince Veronica to let them marry. Once Veronica sees that they are truly in love, she relents. Teresina and Gennaro sail off together happily. The market is suddenly full of dancers for the entertainment of the crowd, but the festivities are interrupted by a vicious storm. When the sky clears, Gennaro is found, but Teresina is not. Thinking her daughter dead, Veronica blames Gennaro, who nearly commits suicide. He is stopped by the sight of the statue of the Madonna, and Fra Ambrosio, the local monk, appears and tells him to go and find Teresina.

In Act II, Gennaro finally finds Teresina in the Blue Grotto. She has been turned into a naiad by the Grotto's ruler Golfo, and cannot remember her mortal life. The sight of the Madonna also restores Teresina, and she remembers Gennaro. Teresina returns to human form, and she and Gennaro leave together. Golfo, impressed by the power they seem to have, gifts them some of his wealth. In Act III, the two have returned to Naples, but the townsfolk are suspicious of Gennaro. His sudden wealth and Teresina's disappearance and unexplained reappearance make them suspect Gennaro of being in league with the Devil. To disperse these rumours, the monk blesses Gennaro in front of the shrine of the Madonna, and the ballet ends with the wedding of Teresina and Gennaro.

Napoli was created for the Danish Royal Ballet by ballet master and choreographer August Bournonville, and premiered on March 29 1842. Bournonville was at a crux point in his life when he created Napoli. In 1841, events at the Royal Theatre resulted in Bournonville standing on stage heatedly addressing the king, who was sitting in the royal box. As a result, he fell into disgrace and left the company, considering a career abroad. Not long after, however, he returned to Denmark with Napoli, which had begun while Bournonville was staying in Italy. The ballet was first drafted in a stagecoach as Bournonville travelled from Paris to Dunkerque. The first and third acts are obviously inspired by the street scenes that Bournonville had been witness to in Italy, but the second act was inspired by Bournonville's impressions of French Romantic ballet. Whilst in Paris, he had seen Giselle, which he did not much like; however, he found the feeling of the ballet quite inspirational, and, in a way, Napoli is Bournonville's reply to Giselle, though with more of a focus on what, in the 19th century, would have been called realism. Napoli can be seen as the ballet version of Goethe's popular 19th century novel Bildungsroman, and follows the same three-stage pattern: home-abroad-home. The middle section shows the two young lovers resisting the temptations of life; the world of the Blue Grotto illustrates the typical Romantic world where the cares of everyday life disappear, and was in fact inspired by Bournonville's swimming trip into the cave under Capri.

The premiere of Napoli was a great success. The normally reserved Danish audience became completely carried away, and the ballet became that rare thing: a piece loved by audiences and critics alike. It has been danced by the Danish Royal Ballet ever since, but it is by no means the same ballet as the one which Bournonville originally envisioned. In modern performances the Christianity versus paganism aspect has been downplayed, but the sheer vitality of the ballet lives on. The mime sections, also, have almost disappeared, particularly in Act II. A staging by ballet master Harald Lander and former principal dancer Valborg Borchsenius in 1932 attempted to reintroduce the mime, without much success. The ballet was thought too long, and in fact, the audience left during Act II to fortify themselves at the nearby Restaurant Bronnum before returning for the celebrated dances in Act III. From 1951 to 1990, consecutive ballet masters largely kept Lander's choreography but expanded the dancing section in Act II. The 1963 production reintroduced the pas de deux between Teresina and Golfo. For the 150th anniversary of the production, in 1992, Dinna Bjorn choreographed an entirely new Act II. The same score continues to be used, including the famous tarantella music; four composers contributed: Edvard Helsted and Holger Simon Pelli (Acts I and III; the tarantella is Pelli's work), Niels W. Gade (Act II, though this includes La Melancholie, composed by Francois Henri Prume), and H.C. Lumbye, who provided the ballet's finale.

Despite still being criticised for length and the inclusion of mime, Napoli remains a success for the few companies who still perform it, and is sometimes seen as Bournonville's signature work.

Here's the Pas de Six from Act III, from a 1986 performance by the Danish Royal Ballet:

And the tarantella from the end of Act III, I believe from the same production:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene


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