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Coppelia Question #3: What do we do about Frantz?


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 16 May 2001 - 02:13 PM

Frantz is ballet's first transsexual. He was born a girl (either because there were no men around, as the usual version goes, or because the girls-playing-breeches-parts was well-established by the time "Coppelia" rolled around and the audience liked this conceit). Females continued to dance the role in France until 1961, I believe, and I think I read POB was reviving that version -- perhaps for the School, not the company? Estelle?

Later productions made Franz male (the Danes did this instantly; they had plenty of male dancers and, although they liked breeches parts, too (witness the two little cadets in "Far From Denmark"), there seems to be an instinct there that chemistry is important, and cross-gender roles don't work dramatically. (The Danes call them "Franz" and "Svanilda.")

Even there, though, Frantz's character seems a bit thin, and not just because he literally has to sit out the second act. He's a nice guy, a little foolish (he falls in love with a doll, after all), curious, not especially law-abiding -- it seems as though there could be a lot of scope for imagination in that character, but generally, dancers don't get past the "nice guy" part.

Has anyone seen a Fran(t)z who did more than just be a cute, dumb guy?

#2 cargill

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Posted 17 May 2001 - 08:34 AM

Alexandra, Off topic, but Franz wasn't really ballets first transexual--early on men danced women's parts exclusively. And I thought when Coppelia was done, it was pretty much the custom to have women dance heros.

Anyway, I haven't seen a Franz done any way other than a dumb cluck. It is hard to imagine how it could be done differently.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 17 May 2001 - 09:49 AM

Mary, I didn't mean cross-gender, I meant transsexual -- not that men danced women's roles and vice versa; of course, yes, that's been going on since the Greeks and Romans (and probably well before) but that this was a major role first danced by a woman that is now danced by a man, in the way that Shakespeare's women's roles were originally played by men (though for different reasons) and are now played by women -- and it would seem inconceivable to revert to the former custom, except in a deliberately stylized production.

The Danes had one Franz who was a bully (Torben Jeppesen) rather than a sweet young thing, but I didn't see him.

#4 Juliet

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Posted 17 May 2001 - 10:40 AM

Angel Corella.
Well, just *look* at the guy.....

He was charming, he was goofy, he was callow, he was sort of a rowdy with his friends, he was cheeky, he was a great show-off.......cute as all get-out with the megawatt smile and he was FABULOUS in the role.

Even the not-too-bright aspect wasn't too obvious.....one could get an idea just why Swanhilda was atttracted to him.

#5 Estelle

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Posted 17 May 2001 - 11:28 AM

Originally posted by alexandra:
Frantz is ballet's first transsexual.  He was born a girl (either because there were no men around, as the usual version goes, or because the girls-playing-breeches-parts was well-established by the time "Coppelia" rolled around and the audience liked this conceit).

I remember reading that one of the reasons why Franz was danced by a female dancer was that Eugenie Fiocre was a very pretty woman, and that she looked good in male clothes.  :)


>Females continued to dance the role in >France until 1961, I believe, and I think I >read POB was reviving that version -- >perhaps for the School, not the company?  >Estelle?


It was revived a few months ago for the POB school by Pierre Lacotte (by the way- it was filmed for the French TV). Lacotte had already staged a version for the POB in 1973, after Aveline's 1936 production (supposedly very close to the original one) but he had added a third act. For the POB school, he just staged the first two parts (with a male variation which had been added in 1983 when it was performed at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees). In 1996, Bart staged his own production for the company (I haven't seen it, but have read that it is quite different from the traditional one). It seems that now, Bart's production has replaced the traditional one.

The POB brochure also says that the last female dancer who danced the role of Frantz was Paulette Dynalix in 1950. The first male dancer who danced that role at the Paris Opera was Jean-Paul Andreani in 1951 (partnering Micheline Bardin).

#6 cargill

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Posted 17 May 2001 - 12:46 PM

Alexandra, Sorry, I misunderstood. I see what you mean. I agree Corella is just charming as Frantz. But still he is do dumb he is smitten with a doll!

#7 atm711

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 12:28 PM

Not to get too far off topic--BUT men are still smitten with dolls today--hence the popularity of Barbie's physique!!

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 03:02 PM

atm, good point! I'm not sorry to have a ballet hero who's dumb enough to fall for a doll :) Whenever I read an article about there not being any role models for little girls in "traditional" art and literature, I always think of "Coppelia." I'd take the whole first grade :)

#9 Jane Simpson

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 03:09 PM

I don't think we should be too hard on Franz - after all, Swanilda also thinks the doll is a girl, and from much closer quarters too. I think of him as more vain than stupid!

#10 Guest_Balarina_*

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 03:15 PM

When my company performed coppelia, franz was more of a con than a dumb guy.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 04:00 PM

Jane, you're right about Swanhilda :) But Franz does take that beautiful butterfly and stick a pin right through it -- and thinks she'll like it :)

Balarina, turning a ballet hero into a con or a cad is certainly well within the tradition :) How was Swanhilda played? Sweet girl, naughty girl, smart girl, or what?

#12 Drew

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 07:56 PM

Presumably Frants falling in love with a doll is meant to be a parody (or comic demystification) of all those silly ballet heros who fall in love with sylphs and naiads and dryads -- i.e. the unreal and untouchable -- literally, the girl on point (i.e. with mechanical accoutrements) instead of the girl in soft slippers. (I know Swanilda is on point, but she does do character dancing, and plot-wise she's an Effie who fights back.)
The Barbie doll is a kind of popular version of this type of (sometimes obsessive) idealization. Just listen to people who collect Barbie dolls!

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 June 2001 - 06:28 AM

Franz is an amiable doofus; he is there to point up an important subtheme of Coppelia, and a source of great humor in drama ever since Lysistrata: It's good for society to have a clever woman or two about in order to keep these silly men in line! :)


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