Coppelia

Coppélia is a sentimental comic ballet with original choreography by Arthur Saint-Léon to a ballet libretto by Saint-Léon and Charles Nuitter and music by Léo Delibes. It was based upon two macabre stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann, Der Sandmann (The Sandman), and Die Puppe (The Doll). The ballet premiered on 25 May 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial de l´Opéra, with Giuseppina Bozzacchi in the principal role of Swanhilde. Its first flush of success was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris, but eventually it became the most-performed ballet at the Opera Garnier.

The story of Coppélia concerns a mysterious and faintly diabolical inventor, Doctor Coppélius who has made a life-size dancing doll. It is so lifelike that Franz, a village swain, is infatuated with it, and sets aside his true heart’s desire, Swanhilde, who in Act II shows him his folly by dressing as the doll and pretending to come to life. The festive wedding-day divertissements in the village square that occupy Act III are often deleted in modern danced versions, though one of the entrées was the first czardas presented on a ballet stage. If Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein represents the dark side of the theme of scientist as creator of life, then Coppelia is the light side. If Giselle is a tragedy set in a peasant village, then Coppélia is a comedy in the same setting. The part of Frantz was danced en travesti by Eugénie Fiocre, a convention that pleased the male members of the Jockey-Club de Paris and was retained in Paris until after World War II.

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