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Giselle Question #1: Is Albrecht a cad?


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#16 Helene

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Posted 15 September 2007 - 10:41 PM

If I'm remembering correctly (and I may not be) I thought that one of the many things I liked about Nureyev's Albrecht was that he didn't reach for the sword to respond to Hilarion's knife -- but, as you said, showed who he was by his nobility of manner.

I also wish I could remember. Can anyone help?

What you describe, Alexandra, would be consistent with Albrecht's world-view as a medieval nobleman. A peasant, even an upper peasant employed by the nobility, was described by some as almost another species. The thought of gaining an upper hand by fighting with a sword -- duelling being a prerogative of nobles -- would be beneath someone like Albrecht.

The scene in Delouche's documentary on Moniques Lourdieres in which Vladimir Vasiliev coaches her in Giselle is one of my all-time favorite things in ballet, and while they don't rehearse Albrecht's reaction to Hilarion, there's a priceless moment in the scene they do rehearse which is a precurser: Giselle sits on the bench and looks away shyly. Vasiliev approaches her like a prince, and realizes this is a give-away. In a split second he does this little slouch and turns from Prince to a reglar' guy. (You can almost see him snapping his finger, like a Jet.)

#17 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 17 September 2007 - 08:34 AM

Does Albrecht really love Giselle? You can answer this question by telling us about productions you've seen (video counts) AND/OR what your ideal Albrecht should be.

I've seen many different approaches to this characters. According to the one that i grew up with, Mme. Alonso's :) , Albretch's feelings builds up as the first acts goes on, to the point when one feels that the simple identity/flirt game have progressed towards something more complex. Also, is interesting to add that in the cuban production,(see Alonso/Vasiliev as reference), Albrecht tries to run out of the village at the realization that he has been caught up on his lie, (who knows, maybe he would later return and give some explanations to Giselle), but he gets abruptely intercepted every time he tries to run out to a wing by the court members, who enter by every angle all bowing at his sight...THEN, he saddly kind of give up, to the realization that his real fiancee is right there, and his fate has been decided already, but he does it clearly frustrated and not in the openly fresh-remorsless attitude a la Nureyev. Also, after Giselle's death, he doesn't run away,like Nureyev does, but he just can't hold his pain and his newly found love feelings for her,(too late!) and kneel down on the ground crying while desperately kissing her feet in front of Bathilde and everybody else...That, for me, is the confirmation that he has loved her, even if it's been for a few minuts/hours...In other productions, it looks to me as infatuation...

#18 popularlibrary

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Posted 29 March 2008 - 11:20 AM

I just came across this fascinating discussion and thought I could add one small piece of information - Igor Youskevitch (since he was mentioned a few posts ago) discussed his interpetation of Albrecht at some length with Barbara Newman for his interview in her wonderful book of interviews Striking a Balance (Limelight 1992). He recalls learning the role from Serge Lifar, who (like Anton Dolin) showed Albrecht as in love with Giselle "and what happens is just an accident." Youskevitch said that after thinking about this:

"I realized that of course it cannot be that way, because the action of the story indicates deceit of a certain kind. Obviously Albrecht came with a specific goal in mind. He was a nobleman, probably the landlord of everything around, and it's far-fetched that he had really honorable intentions. Eventually I settled on the idea that Albrecht was really a wolf. He fell in love with a little peasant girl, and he was just going about it as any red-blooded male would, without thinking too much of the consequences or about his fiancee. It was a kind of flirtation on the side, which in his mind would not affect his marriage in any way."

He adds that when the court shows up "he's upset, he doesn't know what to do, and he just decides to tell some kind of a story and cover up, hoping Giselle will not react." Giselle's death causes an attack of "mild hysterics" and in Act II "his realization that he loved Giselle much more than he expected is supposed to come through more."

He discusses many interesting details, such as having Albrecht watch Giselle's physique when she's plucking the flower because "it's not an innocent, idealistic love, but that he's really trying to make her."

He also has a fascinating comment on Baryshnikov's dancing in Act II, which he felt was too contemporary and out of place, that it "leaves no room for emotional involvement. It's so technical that you cannot make it expressive."

This book also includes an equally enlightening interview with Alicia Alonso on the ballet.

#19 dirac

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Posted 29 March 2008 - 12:19 PM

Thanks for reviving this thread, popularlibrary. I remember several interesting talks about 'Giselle' in 'Striking a Balance,' which is such a wonderful book. I think Youskevitch is right - given the class barriers of the time, there is no way that Albrecht's intentions can be 'good' - he's a cad, the question is, is he only a cad? And how do his feelings change over the course of the ballet?

He discusses many interesting details, such as having Albrecht watch Giselle's physique when she's plucking the flower because "it's not an innocent, idealistic love, but that he's really trying to make her."


I think that's one scene that can be played different ways - Albrecht is in love, he's not in love, he's in love but doesn't know it yet, etc.

#20 Helene

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Posted 07 June 2010 - 08:36 PM

In another thread, smokeyjoe asked in response by my post about the Dutch National Ballet "Giselle" video:



The production takes the point of view that Albrecht loves Giselle truly-madly-deeply, and, poor, misunderstood chap, he would have cleared up everything if she hadn't died, or, to be more accurate, he hadn't killed her first, and in this vein, Jozef Varga was very affecting in the second act.


What is your opinion on Albrecht's role in Giselle is he a sinner or a person looking for escape when forced to marry cause of his status?
Does he really fall in love or he only feels bad cause of the tragical outcome of his actions? When is the moment when he realizes how he feels about her if he does love her? Do you think this story is still actual today? Love, tragedy, social differences, arranged marriage etc.?


In this thread there hasn't been any argument that the Romantic tradition requires a single "right" answer that would drive Giselle's behavior in the second act. Taking class into consideration, which is part of the tradition, doesn't dictate one approach over another, but regardless of his intention or feelings, Giselle will save him in Act II, and the Romantic tradition finds him worthy of salvation.

Because of that, I don't think it matters how Albrecht feels about Giselle in Act I or what he was going to tell her when. Although had he been given a chance to explain, how he could spin it to her to make him look any better than a selfish escapist beats me, but then I'm not someone who would readily accept "I had to act unethically because I could not control myself." (Albrecht doesn't work very well on project managers.) I don't have much sympathy for anyone who holds the power and uses it to manipulate the situation, much like the protagonist Erland in "A Rational Solution", a movie from Sweden I saw yesterday at the Seattle International Film Festival. (The women remain alive.) The bottom line is that his "me, me, me" behavior towards her, whatever the cause or rationalization, causes her to die of a condition he knows about.

I think the story is still actual today, aside from the Wilis part. Formal arranged marriage is still prevalent for a billion people in the world spread over many countries, and as prevalent are class, religious, and ethnic pressures to marry a certain way. People can make up virtual identities at will. People will want what they want when they want it, and if they have the power and wherewithal to get it, they often will. That doesn't make Act I Albrecht any better a human being.

#21 Bradan

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 08:21 AM

I came across this great discussion here and remembered reading Baryshnikov's account of how he came to play Albrecht as someone who is genuinely in love so I went to look it up (in "Baryshnikov at Work", with Charles France, 1978). He gives this history of 'Albrecht the cad' in Russia:

The traditions, both physical and dramatic, in the way Albrecht is played are very strong in the Soviet Union. Two great interpretations of Albrecht - that of Konstantin Sergeyev at the Kirov and that of Alexei Yermolayev at the Bolshoi - established a standard from as far back as the 1930's. If Sergeyev's Albrecht was the more elegant and poetic and Yermolayev's the more ferocious, they both shared one quality that is basic to all Soviet interpretations: Albrecht is an aristocrat. His primary concern is his social position, and his love for Giselle is at best a somewhat serious bagatelle. Albrecht is by implication or intention a cad, and therefore a limited character. His social position and noble bearing are the most important aspects in the standard interpretation of the role.

There were two well-known exceptions to this standardization: the performance by Nikita Dalgushin, a very talented and gifted dancer from the Kirov (who incidentally made a double debut with Natalia Makarova), and by Rudolph Nureyev, who made his debut with Irina Kolpakova. Both interpretations departed significantly from the usual. Unfortunately, by the time I came along these two dancers were no longer with the company. My own models - Yuri Soloviev, Sergei Vikulov, Vladilen Semyonov, all gifted dancers - were still very much in the Sergeyev mold.


So, so far as he knows, the cad interpretation goes back to at least the 30's, and the 'Albrecht is really in love' interpretation is something that he had to come up with himself as a way of making himself believable in the role, given his youth and the skepticism about him as a danseur noble in the Kirov system at the time. Does anyone know if he was he the first (at least in living memory) to dance the role that way, or were there others outside of the Soviet Union who were playing it like that before the 70's?

Of course, he later changed his mind and played the cad version himself when he was older - which seems to fit with Leigh Witchel's observations about watching Kronstam's attempts to coach a young Lloyd Riggins :

Riggins is following Kronstam's lead as well, but there's a real noticeable change in how the same gestures and direction look on an older, weighted man or a younger man. Riggins had the physical bulk, but not the gravity Kronstam did. I think that's a function of age.



#22 AuntPat

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 01:14 PM

Iím a novice ballet watcher and have only seen 3 Giselles on DVD and unfortunately never a live performance. Early in Act 1, all 3 of my Albrechts - Bujones, Kobborg and Vargas, each backs away from Giselle and puts his hand over his heart and then raises two fingers in swearing his love for Giselle. None of them points to his ring finger as mentioning marriage. I get the impression that Albrecht has no thought of marrying Giselle. It is just a flirtation or an expectant affair on his part. She is a naÔve young girl who jumps to the conclusion that love and marriage are inseparable. I wonder if Albrecht has mentioned marriage to Giselle by pointing to the ring finger in other performances that I have not yet seen. If he has then is an even bigger cad.

#23 puppytreats

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 04:49 PM

Does Albrecht really love Giselle? You can answer this question by telling us about productions you've seen (video counts) AND/OR what your ideal Albrecht should be. Also, if anyone knows where in history Albrecht-the-Cad came in, please let us know.

[ 04-16-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]


First, thank you so much for this post. I have been obsessed with this topic for months. I have wondered whether Albrecht visited Giselle's grave in Act II as a result of his guilt or his love. I did not believe that he loved her at first, but have come to believe he may have developed or realized a form of love for her after he felt loss and/or remorse. Of course, he felt attraction for her in Act I, but I am unsure whether he felt deep affection. I think the issue is not just one of being a cad or not, but rather, one of age and maturity, of learning consequences, of evaluating expectations and social limitations, of developing empathy and compassion.

I agree with the discussion above regarding class and status. (Prince Siegfried's youthful rejection of his duty to marry, and his treatment of the peasant girls in Act I, informs my interpretation of Albrecht's immaturity, his sense of entitlement, and his view of peasants as playthings.) However, I do not think class alone explains his motivations or conduct. Often people perceive marriage to be a potential prison, and abandon their fiances; this occurs regardless of whether they are entrapped by duties to marry based on class, politics, economics, or parents forcing arranged marriages. In all societies, men with limited intentions, who are selfish or young or who have not thought through the consequences of their actions, have caused pain, madness (how could he do this, why did he say this, did he mean it, is he the person he appeared to be, etc.), and even death of innocent, naive girls whom they have rejected (e.g., through suicide, or giving up, or succumbing to an illness, or dying of a broken heart). The focus on class to the exclusion of other factors makes sense primarily in a political setting (e.g., the Soviet era interpretations, or historical analyses), and it certainly explains the conduct here, but human emotions, behavior, impulses, and other motivations can produce this result even when class differences are absent.

Last week, I posted in another forum that Alistair Macauley, when reviewing the recent Kirov/Mariinsky production of "Giselle" at the Kennedy Center, wrote that the company performed a production in which Bathilde returned in Act II in the 1970s. Maybe a video recording of this exists.

I think to consider Bathilde "nice" is a bit facile. She also must consider class issues, and her social and economic realities. She may not have loved Albrecht, or expected him to be faithful. If she did not marry him, after his dalliance, she may not have any other options, as well. (The willis are abandoned brides, so maybe those left at the altar become unmarriable.) She has to evaluate her own survival. If she forgave him, this may have been due to love (which may include an ability and willingness to forgive), maturity, expectations (was she told by her mother that men cheat or that the noble take what they want from the peasantry?), understanding his position (she was moved by Giselle's beauty and innocence enough to give her something of value), or learning to adjust her expectations in light of her recognition of his love or his nature. She may think that what he has to offer her in marriage is enough, however limited it may be. She may also return to him with an intention to have revenge and force him to live up to his promise and live in a loveless marriage, or with an intention to force a marriage to save her socially or economically, or an intention to live as previously expected, as a wife in a court of concubines.

I find it believable that Giselle could forgive him, and that she could hope that he goes on to live a fulfilling life without crippling guilt and remorse, and therefore, she may take steps to intervene to prevent his death and/or return him to Bathilde. This is an unconditional, generous love. Many women, who think Albrecht is a cad with limitations as a human being and undeserving of redemption, might not forgive him, but then, why would they value and adore a romantic ballet that tells a story of enduring love that survives death? For those who believe Albrecht is a limited character, who is a cad incapable of growth, are you saying this great tale of love involves only a selfless Giselle's love? Or are you saying that he has learned his lesson, and discovered his love after her death, and therefore, love can survive?

Recently, I posted about a "Giselle" production being shown in Canada that describes the ballet as one about revenge. Does anyone understand the story to be about revenge?

Myrtha and her willis seek revenge and death as punishment, but that is not the focus of the drama between the protagonists, so about whom would this refer? This interpretation seems to apply if Giselle saved Albrecht rather than letting him join her in death, to make him live on, to suffer a life of guilt or to live imprisoned in a loveless marriage with an angry, bitter, humiliated, and vengeful Bathilde. I find this hard to believe, but possible.

Alternatively, Albrecht's guilt could cause him to go mad, or live a life of suffering, or to lose his carefree, entitled way of living, taking what he wants without regard to consequences. In this way, a sort of justice and revenge could be attained. For this to be a consequence of love and/or mercy would be great irony, and deeply saddening. If he lives a more caring, empathetic, and/or loyal life, as a result, then maybe this would be understandable.

Another interpretation I have considered is that Myrtha is the ghost or alter ego of Bathilde, whose bethrothed abandoned her, and humiliated her, and this is why she demands death for faithless, wayward fiances with her army of willis. This is another way the tale could be one of revenge. Giselle rejects this, however, and the young peasant surpasses the benevolent, enlightened noble.

#24 Paul Parish

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 07:19 PM

THe Romantic movement, of which Giselle is a sterling example, was a revival of the Romantic traditions of the middle ages -- the romances of Arthurian legend, tRISTAN AND iSOLDE, THE TROUBADOURS,
oops caps lock --

Point is, in THAT tradition love nad marriage were mutually exclusive. Lancelot loves King Arthur's wife, who loves him in return; Tristan loves Isolde, who is King Mark's wife but loves him in return. In NONE of these stories would it be acceptable at all for hte lovers to be married.... she is his mistress, and he languishes for love, praying that she will "grant merci" --

This has probably been said before -- probably by Mel -- but may be worth saying again.

#25 little-junkie

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 11:29 AM

Not meaning to go sidetracked with the discussion of Albrecht's character... but I always thought Bathilde's social status/class is above Albrecht's, just from the way she came out of Giselle's little house, and questioned Albrecht on the why and how and what, how she would expect Albrecht to place a kiss on her hand, and how she turned and walked away from Albrecht after the hell broke loose and Giselle went mad. My thinking is if Albrecht didn't tell her about Giselle on purpose, for the risk of losing his social status or the marriage arrangement, that would be hinting that he was going to "marry up" himself.

Not sure if I'm the only one reading her character this way, but if it's true, would that mean her marriage to Albrecht was officially void, and at the end Albrecht lost both women, and, possibly though we would never know, lost his social status and/or wealth as well?

If he was aware of the potential loss of his status, that would mean he was already a calculated person, what he didn't take into consideration is that someone could die from a broken heart.

#26 puppytreats

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 02:24 PM

I just finished watching a Mats Ek choreographed version of "Giselle" and my heart broke for Albrecht and still aches. It is too bad that the quality of the video was so poor and I could not see many details; otherwise, I am sure the impact would have been greater. Regardless, it does not matter whether Albrecht was a cad or not. Still, I am unsure whether rebirth is a gift or punishment here.


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