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A Coppelia miscellany


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 16 May 2001 - 02:17 PM

I meant to put this up for Giselle and forgot, so I'll start a new "tradition." This can be a thread for oddball stories and the like. Here's one funny one to start.

The names of the characters in "Coppelia" have long posed a problem for newspaper editors. Often a reviewer will find that his review of, say, the great Danilova's Swanhilda will be changed by a thoughtful copy desk to "the great Danilova's Coppelia," because, after all, that is the heroine, right? Or, worse, they'll look down the cast list and see that Sally Smith is Coppelia and have a great big headline: Freddie Franklin and Sally Smith Knock 'em Dead at the Arena."

But I can top that. A friend of mine once woke to find she had reviewed a dancer's delicious portrayal of Swan Hilda. She had dictated the review and spelled the name, and the operator had jumped to what was, for her, the obvious conclusion.

#2 Estelle

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Posted 16 May 2001 - 05:44 PM

It is interesting to notice that in Ivor Guest's "Paris Opera Ballet" (published in 1976), "Coppelia" is listed as the most frequently performed ballet of the POB repertory in all the POB history.

At that date, it had been performed 741 times. I can't resist mentioning the following ballets of the list:
2- Psyche (Gardel): 564 times (all between 1790 and 1829)
3- Giselle: 465 times (1841-1868 and 1924-1976)
4- Telemaque (Gardel): 408 (1790-1826)
5- Suite en blanc (Lifar): 369 (1943-1970)
6- Suite de danses (Clustine): 336 (1913-1974)
7- Soir de Fete (Staats): 303 (1925-1974)
8- La Dansomanie (Gardel): 244 (1800-1826)
9- Palais de Cristal (Balanchine): 303 (1947-1973)
10- Les deux pigeons (Merante): 196 (1886-1949)

(If anyone is interested, Guest's books lists the first 38 ballets of the list...)

Surely the list must have changed a lot now, as there has been many performances in the last 25 years. But I wonder if "Coppelia" still ranks first! (If only the official POB web site had pages about its repertory, like for example that of the Comedie Francaise, which includes a list of the most often performed plays since the creation of the company around 1690!) It probably is the oldest ballet of the POB's repertory with a continuous performing tradition since its creation (but the present production is a recent one by Patrice Bart which is very different from the traditional one).

#3 doug

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Posted 17 May 2001 - 10:43 AM

Maybe this could be an individual topic: I'm interested to know different takes on the Act III Festival of the Bell. It seems to be a sort of pageant about life and a day at the same time, plus the dedication of the town bell. I believe French productions omit most of Act III.

On another topic, I'd like to bring to everyone's attention the CD recording of Coppelia with the Orchestre de L'Opera de Lyon, conducted by Kent Nagano, on ERATO 4509-91730-2. I feel this is the best Delibes recording, by a long shot. It's amazingly suave and well-timed, with great ensemble. If you like ballet music but generally don't favor Delibes, I'd say give this one a try. If you like Delibes, you'll really appreciate this recording. Another benefit is the complete Act III, with some of the sorties and other bits of music that aren't even in the re-issued piano score.

#4 Estelle

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Posted 17 May 2001 - 11:33 AM

About Act III: from an article by Gautier published on May 30 1870, there were some divertissements about (successively): "Le Temps, l'Aurore, la Prière, le Travail, l'Hymen, la Discorde, la Guerre, la Paix, le Plaisir, représentés par les plus jolies danseuses de l'Opéra". :) It was omitted as soon as 1872 (the ballet was shown after an opera then, and so it was considered as too long).

About the performing tradition at the POB:
the 100th performance was in 1885, the 300th one was in 1911, the 600th performance was in 1941.

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 June 2001 - 06:23 AM

I have often had a sneaking suspicion about Coppelia - that a lot had been lost or become confounded because of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), and the awful Siege of Paris that occurred during it. The original Swanilda, Giuseppina Bozzachi, died as a result, and Saint-Léon only shortly before her. Even for a nineteenth-century divertissement, the third act has always seemed disjointed and odd to me. Maybe it had something to do with the war?

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 03 June 2001 - 10:38 AM

Dear little Giuseppina. I've wanted to start a thread for her and I haven't had the time. What I remember from Guest's accounts is that this was very popular (although people left throughout the divertissement, and so it was trimmed, as noted elsewhere here). The Opera was closed during the War. Giseppina died from smallpox partly because she and her family were penniless and starving during the few months between the closing and her death. When they revived the ballet it was very different -- almost no one connected with the original ballet was alive, or still at the opera.

Saint-Leon was often criticized for putting too much dancing in his ballets, so it may well have been that, since he wasn't around to scream, they just lopped the divertissement off then. (I haven't checked that last statement.)

BTW, Mel, thanks very much for your contributions on these threads, for reviving them over the past few days :)

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 June 2001 - 11:12 AM

My pleasure, Alexandra. I wasn't feeling very well during the time when the topics were first "hot" and couldn't coordinate my thoughts effectively to communicate on this important issue. But now, I'm back and thinking, so I promise to be a more productive member now! ;)

I've seen an editorial cartoon contrasting Bozzachi and Eugénie Fiocre, the original Franz. Bozzachi looked like Maria Callas, only with a bigger nose, and Fiocre reminded me of Catherine deNeuve!

#8 innopac

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 01:24 AM

The automaton was a popular phenomenon in eighteenth-century Europe and one that filled Hoffmann with horror, representing as it did the insolent attempt by human reason and the human will to usurp the prerogatives of nature. In a letter he contemplated the possibility of a human person dancing with an automaton, and asked with fascinated repulsion, "Could you witness such a scene even for a minute without shuddering?" from page 51 in The Double in Nineteenth-Century Fiction by John Herdman.

Have you seen any productions where this was a subtext?

Or do most productions make Dr Dr Coppelius an object of ridicule and/or sympathy?

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 04:55 AM

Roland Petit made him a dirty old lounge lizard.

#10 Paul Parish

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 09:57 AM

I wish I knew more about Erik Bruhn's portrayal of Dr. Coppelius -- It was sensational, and widely remarked at the time, for its complexity of characterization. The Danes know something about bitterness and hope -- Sorella Englund's famous portrrayal of Madge (Bruhn was also a great Madge) may give an indication how great Bruhn's Coppelius was.

THe theme -- wanting to animate a lifeless assemblage of parts -- is also present in Mary Godwin Shelley's Frankenstein. And the idea of dancing with a dol is of course central to the Nutcracker. Also check out DV8's "Enter Achilles."

#11 carbro

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 10:18 AM

The automaton was a popular phenomenon in eighteenth-century Europe and one that filled Hoffmann with horror, representing as it did the insolent attempt by human reason and the human will to usurp the prerogatives of nature. In a letter he contemplated the possibility of a human person dancing with an automaton, and asked with fascinated repulsion, "Could you witness such a scene even for a minute without shuddering?" from page 51 in The Double in Nineteenth-Century Fiction by John Herdman.


Have you seen any productions where this was a subtext?

Or do most productions make Dr Dr Coppelius an object of ridicule and/or sympathy?


Wasn't Frankenstein's monster a near-contemporary of Coppelius' doll?

#12 innopac

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Posted 01 February 2008 - 11:58 PM

Also check out DV8's "Enter Achilles."


Thank you Paul. The fragment I found on the web, after your post, has made me want to see more. It reminded me of The Judas Tree.


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