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Question #3: How does Giselle die?


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35 replies to this topic

#16 Mel Johnson

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 01:33 PM

A little remembrance here of field trips past: Once I took a bunch of students and parents to a matinée of Giselle, and the Giselle was Eleanor d'Antuono, much discussed in an earlier thread on "house ballerinas".

As Giselle was placed back on the knoll surrounding her grave, the ABT production then had her reappear about halfway up leg #2, and gesture to Albrecht. My students were extremely puzzled by this, until the (formerly unwilling attendee) 13-year-old brother of one of them caught it. He gasped, "Omigod, she's going to Heaven!" in a voice loud enough where those around us went, "Ooooohhh!" instead of "Shhhhh!"
I made to look over approvingly at the wisdom of the observation, but all I saw were a group of young teens, including one 13-year-old would-be tough guy, suffused in tears! :P

#17 doug

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 05:14 PM

I'm currently reading Marian Smith's new translation of the original published libretto (which she gives both in original French and English translation), and see that Giselle does not stab herself: "... [Giselle] is about to let herself fall on its [the sword's] sharp point, when her mother hurries toward her and grabs it away." Giselle continues her mad dance and then dies: "So many sudden sorrows, so many cruel blows, together with this latest effort, have finally exhausted her dwindling resources ... Life seems to abandon her ... her mother takes her in her arms ... A last sigh escapes from the heart of poor Giselle ... She glances sadly at Albrecht in despair, [italicized from hereon] and her eyes close forever! Bathilde, kind and generous, melts in tears ..."

The libretto is very rich in detail and very illuminating.

[ 04-21-2001: Message edited by: doug ]

[ 04-21-2001: Message edited by: doug ]

#18 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 22 April 2001 - 03:40 AM

Thanks for the quotes, Doug. It's very interesting to note that Théophile Gautier's "Les Beautés de l'Opéra de Paris" from 1844 is already different in many points from the libretto.

#19 Alexandra

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Posted 22 April 2001 - 10:30 AM

Cyril W. Beaumont's "Complete Book of the Ballets" also has a libretto (although he never lists his sources) which states, as does the Gautier Marc mentions, that she kills herself with the sword -- Albrecht tries to get it from her, but it's too late.

I don't know whether this is the way it worked in Paris (although I would imagine it is) but in Copenhagen, the libretto was something that you had to submit to the Theater's censor before a ballet went into production. The stage action often differed.

I have a very clear memory of reading that the suicide death was deemed necessary for Grisi because she wasn't a strong enough actress to carry off a mad scene and a les concrete death, but when Fanny Elssler got the role she, in effect, said, "La Elssler does not need a sword to die!" and, voila!, we have the mad scene we all know and love today. This would match the inconsistencies in the libretti -- the original, nonsuicide one submitted to the Theater and the slightly later one that matched the stage action.

I have found nothing in the few sources I have at home that say anything about Giselle's grave and why it's in the forest -- perhaps this has been merely an assumption (that suicides can't be buried in the churchyard). If she had died unshriven, she'd also be kept out of the churchyard. The Beaumont libretto talks about a beautiful marble tomb (now, where Giselle's mother have come up with the money for that?)

Perhaps this was not an issue in 1841, but the audience accepted a forest tomb, as they accepted Albrecht's house?

#20 Estelle

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Posted 22 April 2001 - 03:03 PM

That's a silly detail, but if Giselle kills herself with the sword, why isn't there any blood on her costume? :confused: And as Marc wrote, why would her mother have reminded her of her weak heart if it she was to die from something else?

There is an interesting issue of "L'avant-scene ballet-danse" ("L'avant-scene" used to publish issues about theater, opera and dance but they published only a few issues about dance) dating back from the early 80s with quite a lot of information about Giselle. I think that it included at least some part of Gautier's scenario- but unfortunately my copy is at my parent's house, several hundred kilometers away...

#21 Jane Simpson

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Posted 22 April 2001 - 03:43 PM

In the RB's version, she certainly gets blood on her hands - but it's imaginary blood, this being a romantic ballet! There was a production a few years ago when 'real' blood appeared but I can't remember whose it was (the production, not the blood!)

According to Markova, who's danced more Giselles than most, she does stab herself but not badly enough to kill her, as her mother snatches the sword away before she can really hurt herself. Then she dies of 'shock and anguish'. (Was it Pavlova, by the way, who had a scar from where she'd stabbed herself too realistically?)

[ 04-22-2001: Message edited by: Jane Simpson ]

#22 Alexandra

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Posted 22 April 2001 - 04:53 PM

I don't know if this is the one you saw or not, Jane, but Peter Schaufuss's production has real blood.

Part of the mad scene has some mime which could be interpreted as Giselle seeing the blood run down her arms, OR that she is getting cold and the life is ebbing out of her. I'd never read of the half-suicide, half-nonsuicide before -- thanks for that, Jane. I think often changes are made by dancers who are merely seeking to make sense out of a particular role, make the scenario work for them.

[ 04-22-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#23 Andrei

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Posted 22 April 2001 - 07:55 PM

In Russian villages cemeteries are usually in the forest outside of town, not where the church is. May be, when Giselle "moved" to Russia the graveyard moved to forest as well? :eek:

#24 Alexandra

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Posted 22 April 2001 - 08:09 PM

Sounds plausible to me :P We have some cemeteries that are between a forest (or at least, clump of trees) and the churchyard, so maybe it's betwixt and between.

#25 Estelle

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Posted 24 April 2001 - 10:33 AM

Originally posted by Marc Haegeman:
Thanks for the quotes, Doug. It's very interesting to note that Théophile Gautier's "Les Beautés de l'Opéra de Paris" from 1844 is already different in many points from the libretto.


I've managed to browse through a copy of the issue of "L'avant-scère Ballet-Danse" that I mentioned in an earlier post (by the way, if some people are interested, there is an available copy at the Librairie Théâtrale in Paris, near the Opéra Comique- and I even saw the POB premier danseur Jérémie Bélingard there ;) ), and it includes the full original libretto by Théophile Gautier and Vernoy de Saint-Georges, and also some comments about the differences between that original libretto and Gautier's 1844 text. In the original libretto, as Doug wrote, Giselle did not kill herself, while in Gautier's later text, she does (it's like what Alexandra wrote about the Beaumont text: Albrecht tries to take the sword, but it's too late).

There is no explanation about the reason why the grave is in the forest...

#26 CygneDanois

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Posted 25 April 2001 - 10:13 PM

Correct me if I've misinterpreted this, but I think that in Berthe's mime in Act I, she begins by saying something like, "Out there [ie, in the forest] where the graves are [making the sign of crosses, like tombstones]...." Either the cemetery must be in the forest because of the mime, or the other way round. Or I might not be "reading" the mime correctly. But has anyone else noticed this?

#27 Alexandra

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Posted 25 April 2001 - 10:19 PM

Good point! Maybe they buried all girls who loved dancing too much in the forest so it would be easier for them to become Wilis :) Wouldn't want Myrtha to have to wander through town, or get too close to the church :)

#28 Amy Reusch

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Posted 28 March 2008 - 09:59 PM

ummm.... from somewhere I had the idea that Albrecht was safe as long as he remained next to Giselle's cross... (from where? from where?)... but that he was lured off of it...

#29 Paul Parish

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Posted 29 March 2008 - 12:47 AM

I've always seen this as like those Biblical stories who have all the important events both ways. Like in Genesis, whereh the same story is told in all its variants.

Giselle is buried inthe forest because Ophelia was buried in the forest -- and Giselle owes tremendously to Hamlet -- both hte unready prince and hte freaked- out heroine's madness, orbit in the gravitational sphere of Hamlet.

But it's sweet to think that Giselle is delicate because as Chauviree said, she's from hte wrong side of hte blanket and has a drop of the high-strung noble blood in her. Which is part of what attracts Albrecht to her. This is pretty scandalous stuff, but the French like to think like that -- and it certainly is fitting to the story to think of her as one in a LINE of peasant girls who've been taken advantage of by hte landlord. (THough I like Albrecht to be ALSO super-high-strung and desperately in love with Giselle, like Baryshnikov was.) So she's got that finer quality, and also that weak constitution, by breeding -- perhaps it's not in the libretto, but Chauviree was many people thought one of hte very greatest Giselles of her era.

The most interesting thing I've read about htis recently is Osipova's interview about doing Giselle -- the section hwere she said that in doing hte mad scene, she actually lost rtrack of what she was doing -- that she got 4 text messages during intermission from people who were afraid she'd gone round hte bend -- including one from her mother. And she acknowledges that it DID mess with her mind. And it DOES look on hte Youtubeclip like she stabbed herself but it wasn't enough -- and it also sounds like she herself, hte ballerina, does not know WHAT she did when she was in the throes of the action. VERY great performance; it's up on Youtube -- check it out for yourselves, everybody, and see what you think.

#30 Andrew73

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Posted 29 March 2008 - 02:04 AM

Suicide? Shock? Broken heart? Heart attack?


What a fascinating thread!

You could certainly find productions that have featured suicide (a few), heart failure (many), heart failure plus suicidal attempt (a few), plus many that leave it it up to you; there's certainly a broken heart, but who knows what 'physically' did the deed. Most productions suggest that everyone thinks she's going to stab herself, whether she does or not.

And as people have said, most of these approaches have been made to work - even stabbing herself with a three-foot sword without visible blood (too much reading of 'the merchant of venice?').

The only time I've been concerned, is the few productions that over-egg the weak heart; sometimes you wish they'd just hang a sign around her neck saying "WEAK HEART, HINT HINT". While it's important to the story to be able to look back and think "Ah, all this dancing, stress and betrayal, that's what done it", I'm not convinced we need to be thinking "Crikey, one more solo and she'll be popping her cloggs" - it's distracting.


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