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Question #3: How does Giselle die?


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#31 bart

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Posted 29 March 2008 - 09:23 AM

Boy, this is indeed a fascinating thread. Thank you Amy, Paul and Andrew for bringing it back to life. I'm anxious to see what additional thoughts BTer's will share with us.

There seem to be two categories of response to this question. One looks objectively at the origins of the story and its performance history. The other takes a more subjective point of view, looking at what major Giselles have felt and performed on stage, what makes sense or does not make sense to the individual viewer.

Both approaches are full of possibilities.

I confess to being one of those who hasn't given much thought to these matters. Perhaps it's the inherent improbability of so many Romantic-era operas and plays, not to mention ballets, that I've seen over the years. With such works, I've become conditioned to accepting ambiguities and contradictions on stage that I would not be willing to accept in life.

As several posters have implied, it's probably a good idea to examine the work from the point of view of 19th century audiences, even if we then decide to follow a different interpretive path. I especially appreciated insights about performance history such as those below:

I read, in Ivor Guest's book on Giselle, I think, that originally in France she did stab herself, like Marc says. Then when Giselle went to Russia, she wasn't allowed to kill herself on stage due to religious proscriptions.

Is it possible the original creators Gautier et. al. didn't really think through all the details completely?

Gautier et al. probably didn't think through all of the details, but the problem is also that we don't really see what they were thinking about, or intended. Giselle has been handed down and altered.

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.

We have no censorship on these issues today, at least not in the Western world. Audiences either lack theological interest in these topics or are accustomed to separating their own value system from things that they see on the stage. This leaves us with the matter that interests me the most -- what works best on stage? I like the idea of allowing the individual ballerina to choose her own method of death -- the one which she can portray most effectively.

#32 Mel Johnson

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Posted 29 March 2008 - 02:38 PM

I think ANY explanation is preferable to one that starts, "She has these really bad gallstones, see...." :pinch:

#33 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 15 June 2010 - 09:47 AM

I just got a hold on Dolin's book on Markova and I'm also revisiting Markova's Giselle and I. Considering how close she was to Petipa's rendering of the ballet-(via Sergueeff and Spessivtseva, and even having being taught some of the role's "secrets" by the latter one)-I found important to quote her.
Hence, this is what Markova has to say about this particular matter-(Giselle's death).


[size=3]"Giselle, to my way of thinking, is not a suicide. Her brain snaps as the result of a very severe mental shock and an ensuing nervous and emotional collapse. When she sees the sword on the ground, according to Sergueeff, she takes it to be a serpent. She picks it up by the point and presses it to her bosom, like Cleopatra and the asp. Had she wished to kill herself by the sword, she would have picked it up by the hilt and driven it through her body, or fallen upon it in the best Roman tradition. By that time she is isolated from the others because she no longer recognises them. Her strength begins to ebb, and her heartbeats show signs of exhaustion.
At this point some ballerinas look at their hands with horror, imagining they are covered with blood from the wound. There is no blood on her hands because the wound was a mere pinprick. Giselle regards her hands and arms with terror because they are growing cold and she is conscious of an increasing paralysis. She rubs them in a futile attempt to restore the circulation. Then her breathing gives trouble. She feels she is choking. It is the end. She collapses on the ground, dying because she has nothing to live for..."[/size]


#34 badwolf

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 07:09 PM

On another point brought up here, It doesn't seem completely unthinkable that the Wilis could be "associated with", "hanging out at", or um..."living" in a graveyard, one where Christian graves are almost all topped with crosses. Heinrich Heine's concept of the Wili does not appear to imply that these poor maidens were sinners and condemned to be buried apart from other Christian church-goers. That has been mentioned here, but where did that idea come from? They are clearly pitiable maidens who, like Giselle, probably died of broken hearts. Wouldn't they likely be buried in the church graveyard? The traditional place for "ghosts" is certainly the graveyard, eg. when you were a child (or perhaps even now) did you not "whistle by the graveyard" to keep the ghosts of the dead buried there from intercepting you unexpectedly as you walked past? The placing of the Wilis in the forest is confusing, to be sure. This does take place is Germany, notable for its great forests close upon its towns! Perhaps this is a more interesting place to dance in the moonlight than around the gravestones.


"...Meyer's Konversationslexikon defines Wiles or Wilis as female vampires, the spirits of betrothed girls who die before their wedding night. According to Heine, Wilis are unable to rest in their graves because they could not satisfy their passion for dancing..." In vampire lore, suicides are good candidates for vampires--the suicide is buried in unhallowed ground, normally in a crossroads (to confuse the emerging vampire). If Giselle did originally commit suicide, she would have been buried outside of the churchyard and left open to being taken in by the Willis. The fact that Albrecht is safe when cowering under the cross over Giselle's grave shows that they very well may fear holy things.

#35 Mel Johnson

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 06:16 PM

A very good point, and certainly easier to explain as folklore than to have the Wilis first enter a ballroom and enchant the floor, as a proposed scenario started.

#36 Helene

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 01:13 AM

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."

It's too bad that this wasn't the choice for the Seattle production. It would have given more depth to Berthe's character.


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