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Alexandra

Question #9: Who is Giselle's florist?

30 posts in this topic

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: )

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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.

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

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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 ]

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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?

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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)

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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 ]

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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!

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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.

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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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Some Albrechts come to grave with white roses as for wedding ...

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Also very appropriate; white roses in the 19th-century "Language of Flowers" are emblematic of pure or sacred love. I guess a lot of this discussion will depend on the designer, and what s/he feels is appropriate vegetation. It is to be hoped that a little homework would be done, in such a case! ;)

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Sorry to join in so late in the game - forgive any repetitions. The libretto, at the beginning of Act II, also mentions birch trees, aspens and weeping willows. Myrtha leaps around from willow branches to flowers (unspecified!). Albrecht hide behind a weeping willow while Hilarion is killed.

Re the daisy/daisies in Act I: not to confuse the issue further, but the libretto states, "She [Giselle] picks some daisies [Elle cueille des marguerites], and strips away the petals, to assure herself of Loys's love.--The test succeeds, and she falls into her beloved's arms."

The libretto also states that, at the end of the ballet, Albrecht "carries her in his arms far from her tomb and puts her down on a knoll, amidst a clump of [again unspecified :cool:] flowers." The Stepanov notations of Giselle, which date from probably 1903-5ish, also indicate this action.

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Birches are nice and ghostly; and aspens are renowned for their "quaking". Birches also like it damp, and so establish the wet hems that are supposed to be the giveaway of a Wili!

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Originally posted by doug:

Re the daisy/daisies in Act I: not to confuse the issue further, but the libretto states, "She [Giselle] picks some daisies [Elle cueille des marguerites], and strips away the petals, to assure herself of Loys's love.--The test succeeds, and she falls into her beloved's arms."

There is a small difference between that original libretto and Gautier's text about it in 1844: in the later text, Gautier writes that at first the test fails, so Giselle becomes very sad, but Albrecht does the test again, and it works.

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The original Giselle seems to be much more interesting -- wants to play, not work; rejects a suitable suitor because he's not cute enough; cheats at petal plucking. Having Giselle pull off that extra petal that wasn't supposed to be there anyway, really, rings very true, and serves as a build up for the mad scene. Her whole character is that she can't deal with reality -- or doesn't want to.

There's an interesting parallel with La Sylphide. In the Gautier version of the libretto, it's James who captures the butterfly and the Sylph who makes him free it -- very consistent with the notion that it is the Sylph who is the creature of nature, and James the interloper. Bournonville changed this (well, nobody's perfect :) ) so that it's the Sylph who captures the butterfly and James -- the thinking being -- bids her release it. I wonder when Giselle's character changed? Did subsequent ballerinas -- wanting to be a real "heroine" -- sentimentalize Giselle, turning from a Rhine Valley Girl into a tubercular pale and saintly lass with a weak brain as well as heart (a very late Victorian notion)? Or did later Albrechts steal the flower scene? (There is a line in the Beaumont version that says something like, Albrecht arranges the flower so that things come out right, so this may have been a slip between libretto and stage, as well.)

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I'm confused. As I interpret the quote from the libretto, Giselle does the "Loves me, Loves me not" game with the daisy, plucking petals, but I don't see where it implies that she removes a petal to change the outcome. What am I missing?

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I may have been reading too much into it -- or just read Estelle's post too quickly. I saw the "stripped away" and jumped to the conclusion that Giselle was doing something naughty. ;) Sorry!

[ 04-24-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Yes, in the original libretto, Giselle just did the test normally (without cheating).

Also, it seems to me that the original libretto already was quite sentimental: Giselle's mother definitely insists on her "weak hart" and there's something like "the doctor said it might be fatal someday"... Also in a scene just after or before the daisies moment, she insists that if someday he left her, it would definitely kill her.

One detail about the lilies: when a funeral ceremony was organized for Nureyev at the Paris Opera, there were white lilies on his coffin. It surely was a reference to "Giselle"...

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Where Beaumont got his libretto, I don't know, but it doesn't mention a weak heart. (Bournonville thought Giselle was sentimental from the beginning, unlike his own ballet poems :) )

I don't doubt that the lillies for Nureyev were related to Giselle, but aren't lillies appropriate for funerals generally? I have mental image of dozens of movies that have funerals and funeral parlors in them, and that image includes vases and vases of white flowers. Of course, I am barely literate where flowers are concerned. Once you get past the rose and the violet, I'm in trouble :)

I think the flowers were used for storytelling -- the lillies were a tangible sign that Albrecht was very sorry, and a tangible way for Giselle to see that, and then to communicate with him, forgiving him.

A silly question about the daisies. When I was a child, I used to pour over books about names, and I remember that "Daisy" was a nickname for "Margaret," but there was never an explanation given. Now, in English, we call "daisy" what in French is "marguerite." Does anyone know the reason for this?

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