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Question #9: Who is Giselle's florist?


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26 replies to this topic

#1 Alexandra

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 10:30 AM

There are lots of flowers in "Giselle." It's one of the motifs. And there are differences from production to production. Among them:

1. In act one, does Giselle pluck one or two flowers in productions you've seen? What's the difference?

2. What is the significance of the lillies in the second act?

3. What is Myrtha's relationship to the local flora?

(The lillies in ABT's production are now so large and so plastic that you hear them hit the ground, and they would have killed any fairy folk hiding under the leaves. They're lethal missiles. :cool: )

#2 julip

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 10:47 AM

i'm so glad that you just posted this question. i was coming to the computer to ask if anyone knew the meanings of the lilies. i used to know, but i cannot remember now. i'm in the process of explaining giselle to my husband and he just can't get by the flowers.

#3 liebs

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 01:07 PM

In the traditional iconography of western painting, lilies symbolize purity. They are often associated with the Virgin Mary.

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 01:25 PM

Myrtha's wand is an asphodel sprig, which has classical attachments to death and the dead. The Ancient Greeks used to plant them on graves. It's a woody cousin of the lily.

Lilies in general are also associated with the resurrection.

[ 04-20-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

#5 Jane Simpson

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 03:13 PM

In the Royal Ballet's current production, they use only one flower in Act 1, with Albrecht doing the trick of pulling off an extra petal - i.e. cheating - to make it come out right. I can't believe this was the original way of doing it - any ideas about when it first came in?

Mel, according to C.W.Beaumont, Myrtha's wand is rosemary, which also has a symbolism going back to the classical era. Do you have any idea how far back the asphodel tradition (in the ballet) dates?

#6 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 03:35 PM

It may not be the correct iconography, but from the way they are used I have always associated the lilies with remembrance and forgiveness. It's why I like it when Giselle also gives lilies to Myrtha and scatters them at her feet (this is not in every production; I've seen it in the Bolshoi Vasiliev production)

#7 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 04:08 PM

Jane, according to Théophile Gautier there was only one daisy in the beginning.

#8 Helena

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 04:12 PM

Gautier also specified that Myrtha's flower was rosemary, as Jane says. Rosemary symbolises remembrance.

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 05:16 PM

Good, Helena, I was going to ask if anybody had a Gautier about. Actually, I've thought that so long, that I would be willing to bet that it was identified as asphodel by Agnes de Mille, and I should know better by now! I know I've been familiar with the plant since before I was 15 years old, because I remember discovering the word in some intentionally bad poetry written by W.S. Gilbert for the opera Patience. I know that I first read the score and libretto for that opera when I was fifteen, and I was already familiar with that word, and was surprised to see it.

And yes, rosemary is the herb for remembrance:

Ophelia:...there's rosemary, that's for remembrance, and rue....  


Rosemary is a tender perennial, and a house plant in northern Europe more often than a garden-dweller, so maybe somebody was just adjusting the plant to the climate.

#10 CygneDanois

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 10:16 PM

What are the two branches that Myrtha dances with in the beginning of Act II? And those two flowers Giselle throws to Albrecht a little later on. Is there significance in the different types of flowers--calla lilies Albrecht brings to Giselle's grave and the "Easter" lilies Giselle gives to Albrecht and later Myrtha?

I was told that Myrtha had a willow wand, but that's obviously wrong, and I think Alexandra wrote in Recent Performances about a myrtle branch...

There are tons of flowers in this ballet--the bouquet Hilarion leaves for Giselle, the daisy, smaller white flowers placed by Hilarion on Giselle's grave, Albrecht's lilies, Giselle's lilies, Myrtha's lilies, branches, and wand, Giselle's two white flowers, and in ABT's version, some of the peasants dance with garlands during the grape harvest festival, not to mention Giselle's crown of flowers during the festival. Perrot/Coralli must have loved them!

#11 felursus

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 12:54 AM

Would all those flowers be blooming in the autumn? The ballet clearly is set at a particular time of the year. Even the second act can't occur much after the first, as Giselle is just being "inaugurated" as a new member of the Wilis. :confused:

#12 Mel Johnson

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 11:04 AM

Rosemary would definitely be available, as it only left the house in high summer, And anybody with a clump of wild lilies knows that there are both spring and fall lilies, so they're in. "Asphodel", even though out of the picture now, could have been almost anything including narcissus if the poets had their ways. In northern Europe and in the US, there's a thing called "bog asphodel" that's not related to the classical asphodel at all, that grows year-round as a creeping vine. Willow, of course, is also good, being suitably green before frost, and a nineteenth-century icon for the "weeping" of the bereaved - just check out some Victorian headstones - the weeping willow and the urn are a very popular motif! And myrtle is good as well, being an evergreen! (Just try to control it once it once it gets into your lawn!)
:eek:

[ 04-21-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

#13 Jane Simpson

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 11:39 AM

More flowers: in the original version, Giselle didn't return to her grave when dawn broke: instead, Albrecht carried her to a grassy bank and the flowers grew around her till she disappeared from sight.

In a fairly recent RB production, maybe the current one when it was new, that is what happened (well, he put her on grassy bank: I don't actually remember the flowers) - but I'm sure I remember that when people asked about it they were told something about if she didn't return to her original grave the spell would be broken and she could rest in peace - or something? Maybe someone else can remember this properly? I have to say it looked rather odd, whatever the explanation.

Mr Beaumont, incidentally, is very disapproving of Albrecht bringing a huge sheaf of lilies to the grave - he says it looks as if he's come via a florist's, and even if it was original he doesn't like it!

#14 Helena

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 12:02 PM

Rosemary grows in the gardens where I live (north-western UK)! And ,like myrtle, it is evergreen. We can't be literal about this, anyway - this is Romantic ballet we're talking about!

In the early lithographs of Grisi, her dress for Act 2 has little bunches of pink roses on the skirt, and she has a circlet of pink roses on her head. And butterfly wings. In fact, she looks exactly like Taglioni in La Sylphide. In photographs of Carlotta Zambelli, ballerina of Paris Opera from 1894 to 1940, her skirt has positive garlands of flowers on it.

I have always thought of the lilies simply as a conventional funeral flower, with, of course, the association with purity. And , pace Cyril Beaumont, I like them, so long as they aren't too plastic. I often cry at that point - partly because of the music.

#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 01:03 PM

It sounds to me as if the rosemary in the local gardens where you are, Helena, is just one more proof of the sagacity of the ever-quotable King Charles II -

England has the worst weather and the best climate in Europe.


And yes, it is evergreen, as it is a tender perennial. Anybody ever seen a two-meter tall rosemary plant? I have! Scary-looking thing - Myrtha could bat Hilarion to death with it instead of expending all that nice dancing on the likes of him! ;)

[ 04-21-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]


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