#Throwback Thursday: La Source

This week's #ThrowbackThursday features the 19th century ballet three act ballet La Source.

Painting showing Eugenie Fiocre as Nouredda in 'La Source', Edgar Degas, c. 1868

The ballet, set in Persia, begins with the procession of the beautiful Circassian princess Nouredda and her companions, who are travelling to her wedding to the Khan of Ghendijb. They come to rest by a stream in the rocky desert. Nouredda admires a flower growing on the inaccessible heights of a rock, and the young hunter Djemil retrieves it for her. Impressed by this feat, Nouredda tells him he may have any reward he wishes. When he asks to see her face behind her veil, she is outraged, and has him tied up and left behind. Djemil is rescued by the water nymph Naila, who has fallen in love with him. But Djemil is in love with Nouredda; Naila promises to help him win the princess's hand.

Act II is set in the palace gardens of the Khan, whose court is celebrating his impending marriage. An unknown visitor arrives - Djemil in disguise - and offers the Khan a gift for him and his bride. Djemil ask Nouredda to choose any one of the presents that takes her fancy, and she picks a jewelled flower. Djemil then throws it to the ground, where it becomes a spring. From the spring Naila emerges and begins to dance, entrancing the Khan, who begs her to become his wife. Naila agrees, on the condition that he dismiss Nouredda. This he does, and Nouredda angrily leaves as the Khan leads Naila inside the palace.

Act III sees Djemil confess his love to Nouredda, but she rejects him again. Desperate, Djemil once more begs Naila for help. She agrees, and uses her power of love to unite the two. But the price for doing so is death, and Naila disappears back into the spring, which dries up.

La Source (The Spring), called Naila, die Quellenfee (Naila, the Water Nymph) in Vienna, was created in 1866 to music by Leo Delibes and Ludwig Minkus, and a libretto by Charles Nuitter. The choreography was by Arthur Saint-Leon, and the production premiered at the Theatre Imperial de l'Opera in Paris on November 12 1866. The original cast included Guglielmina Salvioni as Naila, Eugenie Fiocre as Nouredda, and Louis Merante as Djemil. The original run was not particularly successful, as Salvioni was not considered satisfactory in the role of Naila. This was remedied the following year when she was replaced by Adele Grantzow, and subsequently the ballet was a success. It remained in the Paris Opera Ballet's repertoire for several years.

Louise Merante as Djemil in the 1866 premiere, Paris

The ballet was successfully revived in 1872 with Rita Sangalli as Naila. For this production, several new variations were added for Naila, with music very likely written by Delibes himself. The composition had been a collaborative work (Act I and Act III, Scene II by Minkus, Act II and Act III, Scene I by Delibes), though on balance the critics found Delibes' sections to be the more enjoyable and the more suitable for the ballet. Some wished that the score had been left solely to Delibes. La Source was in fact Delibes' first ballet score, and since it was a great success, paved the way for his future in writing some of the best scores of the ballet.

La Source is one of the few classical ballets to have been untouched by Marius Petipa. It made it to Russia only in 1902, with a production in St. Petersburg with choreography by Achille Coppini. It starred Olga Preobrajenska as Naila. In 1907, Vaslav Nijinsky made his debut at the Mariinsky in Act III of La Source. Though lost after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the ballet has made brief reappearances over the years. In 1925, Agrippina Vaganova revived the ballet for her pupil Marina Semyonova, but it quickly disappeared again. A piece of the ballet known as the La Source pas de deux is occasionally used as a graduation piece for students of the Vaganove Academy; it is performed to music by Riccardo Drigo, who composed additional music for the ballet when it first came to Russia, and the modern choreography is credited to Konstantin Sergeyev after Coppini, and was possibly that which was originally created for Preobrajenska. There are now several modern productions of the ballet, most notably that by Balanchine and the modern re-imagining of Saint-Leon's original ballet by Jean-Guillaume Bart for the Paris Opera Ballet.

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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