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Le Papillon


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Here is the famous Le Papillon Pas de deux with music by Jacques Offenbach and choreography by Pierre Lacotte, performed by the great Irina Kolpakova and Sergei Berezhnoi.



Le Papillon (The Butterfly) was a two-act ballet fanastique originally choreographed by the great Romantic ballerina Marie Taglioni in 1860. Mlle. Taglioni created this ballet for her star pupil, the French ballerina Emma Livry, for whom she famously revived her father’s original version of La Sylphide in 1858.

Le Papillon told the story of the beautiful Farfalla, who is transformed into a butterfly by the evil fairy Hamza, who wishes for nothing more than to be young again, something she can only obtain from the kiss of a prince.

The ballet premiered at the Paris Opéra on the 26th November 1860 with Emma Livry as Farfalla, Louis Mérante as Prince Djalma and Louise Marquet as Hamza. The ballet was met with a mixed response, but Emma Livry’s performance was a huge success with the critics praising her “exquisite charm” and “rare audacity”.

Sadly, Emma Livry was not destined to enjoy a career as long and successful as that of her teacher’s. In November 1862, tragedy struck when during rehearsals for the opera La Muette, Emma was terribly burned when her costume caught alight on one of the theatre gas lamps. This tragic accident ended not only her career, but her life. Nine months later, Emma Livry died on the 26th July 1863, aged 20. The Paris Opéra and the Paris balletomanes went into mourning and thousands crowded the streets on the day of her funeral, which was held at the Church of Notre-Dame de Lorette on the 29th July. Among those who attended were Alphonse Gautier, Secretary-General to the Ministry of the Emperor’s Household and Fine Arts, Émile Perrin, Director of the Opéra, Théophile Gautier, Alexandre Dumas fils, the ballerina Carolina Rosati and of course, Marie Taglioni. Emma Livry is buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris; her grave is besides those of Gaétan Vestris (father of Auguste Vestris), Théophile Gautier and Vaslav Nijinsky.

In 1874, the great Marius Petipa revived Le Papillon for his star ballerina Ekaterina Vazem. Petipa extended the ballet from two acts to four and the Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus, who was the Ballet Composer of the St Petersburg Imperial Theatres at the time, composed brand new music for Offenbach’s score.

Ekaterina Vazem gives an account of Petipa’s revival in her memoirs:

“At the beginning of 1874, I appeared for the first time in a grand ballet produced by Petipa especially for me – The Butterfly. The story of the ballet, written by the Parisian ballet librettist St-Georges, was not, God knows, especially engaging. At the time this ballet was produced, Petipa probably took into account that a ballet The Butterfly, to the same scenario but with music by Offenbach, had been performed successfully in Paris by the ballerina Emma Livry, who was burned on the stage of the Grand Opéra during a dress rehearsal of the opera La Muette de Portici. Minkus wrote the music for The Butterfly here; Petipa produced very many dancers for this ballet, and in general they were interesting. Here, incidentally, in the ‘Dances of the Butterflies’, I had a variation to the music of a waltz by Venzano, which at the time enjoyed great popularity. The celebrated Adelina Patti sang it at the Italian opera in Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix. In this variation, which began with temps requiring elevation, I made two pirouettes renversées on pointe and stopped, as they say in ballet, à la seconde (in second position). This was new. Before that [Henriette] Dor did the same pirouettes in Le Corsaire, which astonished everyone, but only on demi-pointe, which was much easier. The variation ended with my jumping on one pointe, which no ballerina had ever done before. The balletomanes immediately christened this pas the ‘Vazem Variation’, similar to the Ferraris, Dor, [Adele] Grantzow Variations, etc., already in existence. As regards participants in the performance, The Butterfly was well produced. [Nikolai] Golts, Lev Ivanov and Alexandre Bogdanov played its acting roles, and all the best soloists performed the dances, led by [Mathilda] Madaeva, [Lubov] Radina, [Felix] Kschessinsky and of course [Pavel] Gerdt, who excelled in his ethereal variation in the ‘Dances of the Butterflies’. The character dances were very effective: Persian, Malabar, and especially the dance of the Circassian women, performed by the corps de ballet armed with lances.”

In 1976, Pierre Lacotte staged his own version of Le Papillon for the Paris Opera Ballet, which he later staged for the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet in 1979. It is important to note that this is not a reconstruction or revival of any piece from Marie Taglioni’s original version; it is completely Lacotte’s own choreography from scratch.

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Here is the libretto and original cast list for Marie Taglioni's original version of Le Papillon as translated by Cyril Beaumont:



Emma Livry

Prince Djalma

Louis Merante

The Fairy Hamza

Louise Marquet


M. Berthier


M. Dauty


Mlle. Stoikoff

Ismail Bey, Emir

M. Lenfant

Leila, Farfalla's friend

Mlle Lamy

The Diamond Fairy

Mlle. Simon

The Pearl Fairy

Mlle. Mauperin

The Flower Fairy

Mlle. Troisvallets

The Harvest Fairy

Mlle. Scholosser


Scene 1, the Fairy Hamza's abode: situated amid picturesque ruins. In this strange dwelling attributes of the Fairy's power are mingled with golden vases and rare furniture. In the background are the mountains of the Caucasus.

A distant fanfare is heard and, attracted by the sound, the aged Fairy Hamza appears, walking painfully with the help of her magic crutch. She divines by magic that a handsome prince is hunting in the forest, and tries to make herself more attractive.

Farfalla, her maid, enters and is much amused at her mistress's coquetries, which she imitates. The Fairy touches her mirror with her crutch, and it reflects the features of Prince Djalma. Farfalla cannot resist a cry of admiration, which reveals her presence to the Fairy, who attempts to beat her, but Patimate, coming in at this moment, receives the blow intended for the maid. The Fairy goes out, leaving Farfalla to soothe Patimate.

He tells the maid that the Emir's nephew and his suite are hunting, and that Hamza wishes to entice him to her house so that he may fall in love with her, for if he kisses her, she will become a young and beautiful girl.

There is a knock at the door. Patimate opens it and discovers the Prince and his suite, who request refreshment. Farfalla and Patimate open a chest from which they take cups and plates and proceed to lay the table. Suddenly, the Fairy enters and frightens the couple so that they drop the dishes.

Hamza, seeing the handsome prince, thanks him for the honour of his visit and, touching the table with her crutch, changes the simple repast into a magnificent banquet. The Prince is astonished, but the tutor, who has been studying Hamza, tells him that she greatly resembles a woman who kidnapped the Emir's daughter in days gone by.

Gay music is heard and a village wedding procession passes the dwelling. The Prince and his suite invite the party into the house. There is high festivity in the course of which the Prince asks Farfalla to dance with him. Time passes quickly and the Prince and his suite take their departure, after he has bestowed a farewell kiss on the pretty maid, greatly to the Fairy's annoyance.

Hamza vents her ill humour on Farfalla, then sits in her arm-chair and turns her spinning wheel, while the maid holds the distaff. Presently the Fairy falls asleep and the mischievous Farfalla rises and tickles her mistress's face with a flower, darting to and fro like a butterfly. The Fairy catches her in the act and, rising in a fury, threatens the maid with her crutch. Farfalla, in a moment of fright, leaps into a chest which the Fairy locks.

But Patimate, who has witnessed this scene goes to free Farfalla, which the Fairy forbids. Since Patimate insists, Hamza touches him with her crutch; he becomes motionless. Then she revenges herself upon Farfalla by changing her into a butterfly. She taps the chest with her crutch and Farfalla, now a butterfly, flutters out.

Hamza, fascinated by her movements, restores life to Patimate. Now a swarm of butterflies comes through the window and, led by Farfalla, drive the Fairy from the house. Patimate follows Farfalla and the curtain falls on a scene of wild pursuit.

Scene 2, the scene changes to a clearing in the forest. With the exception of one shaded corner, the trees are bathed in sunlight.

A party of gypsies are camped on some rising ground. The wedding procession enters from one side, while the Emir's nephew and his suite come in from the opposite direction.

The gypsies dance before Djalma. When they have concluded, the ladies of the Court take little nets and take pleasure in hunting for butterflies. One of the ladies makes a capture and offers her prize to the Prince, who gives her a ring in exchange. Then she joins her companions and all disappear into the forest.

Alone, Djalma looks at his charming prisoner. The butterfly has wings and the body of the same colour as Farfalla. To secure his prisoner, the Prince plucks a needle from his headdress and pins the butterfly to a tree. To his horror, the butterfly changes into a young girl, her head downcast, her eyes brimming with tears.

The Prince withdraws the pin from her breast and the fantastic being sinks exhausted to the ground. He goes to her help and recognises the features of the pretty maid. But she flutters her wings, takes flight, and disappears among the trees. Djalma follows in pursuit.

A swarm of butterflies disport themselves in the sunny glade, when they are joined by Farfalla. But, at the sound of footsteps, the flee into the forest. It is the Prince's tutor, Mohamed, and his suite, come in search of the Prince. Djalma informs Mohamed of his adventure, but the tutor thinks his pupil is mad. Patimate arrives and tells the tutor about the Fairy and Farfalla. Stranger still, Hamza herself comes to question the tutor about her maid; Mohamed, almost bereft of his senses, departs, taking the Prince with him.

Patimate is furious with the Fairy and threatens to denounce her if she does not restore the Emir's daughter. The Fairy laughs at his threats, then suddenly espies Farfalla. She commands her to come with her, but Farfalla mocks her. Then the Fairy waves her crutch and a net stretches between the trees. The butterfly is caught in it.

Farfalla's winged companions come in quest of her and perceive her flight. They beg Hamza to liberate her; she refuses. But Patimate, who has watched the scene from behind a tree, creeps to the seat where the Fairy has placed her crutch and seizes it. He points the crutch at the net and frees Farfalla, then thrusts it at the Fairy who is rendered motionless. Alas! Patimate drops the crutch and an evil sprite swoops down and bears it away.

The butterflies cover Hamza with the net in which caught Farfalla and while she vainly strives to free herself, the butterflies fly away. Patimate calls to Mohamed and his suite and shows them the Fairy imprisoned in the net.


Scene 1, the Palace of the Emir Ismail.

Mohamed tells the Emir that he has found the person who kidnapped his daughter. He orders Hamza to be brought in. The Emir questions and threatens her until she admits her misdeed, which she cannot set right for want of her magic crutch. Ismail orders the Fairy to be imprisoned, but, as she is being led away, the evil sprite appears and places the crutch in her hand.

"Stop!" she cries, "I will restore you the daughter I took away."

She waves her crutch towards the east. Music is heard and there appears a rich procession - Circassian girls followed by black slaves bearing a rich palanquin which is set down before the Emir. The curtains are drawn back and a beautiful princess steps to the ground. The Fairy presents Farfalla to her father, who clasps her in his arms.

Djalma comes to greet his uncle, who leads him to Farfalla, who is veiled, and declares that she is the bride he had destined for him. When Djalma observes that he does not wish to marry, the Emir smiles and goes out. Zaidee, Farfalla's maid, points out the Prince to Farfalla and draws her veil aside. Djalma thinks he must be dreaming, then clasps the princess in his arms, but the pain of her old wound makes her swoon.

Presently she recovers consciousness, but the memory of her wound makes her repulse the Prince. Djalma tries to kiss Farfalla, but the Fairy glides between them and receives the kiss instead. In a moment, she is changed into a beautiful young woman. The Prince, annoyed at Farfalla's indifference, pays his addresses to Hamza, hoping to arouse the former's jealousy. The ruse succeeds, but the Fairy is furious at being tricked.

Now the Emir returns, followed by his suite, and commands a festival to celebrate his daughter's return. There is a number of dances followed by a combat between Circassian amazons. Then the Emir announces the betrothal of his daughter and his nephew. The dancing is about to continue when Hamza, who is standing beside Farfalla, touches her cheek with her crutch. Once more, she is changed into a butterfly who darts hither and thither among the frantic lords and attendants, who follow in swift pursuit.

Djalma, stupefied at this transformation, is about to rush in search of his fiancée, when the Fairy begs him to share her power. He refuses, but she extends her crutch towards him. His eyes close and he falls asleep. Then she strikes the ground with her crutch. The palace disappears to give place to magnificent gardens gleaming with gold and light.

Scene 2, the Enchanted Gardens. In the background is a cascade of silver flowing into an immense pool, in which grow rushes and aquatic plants mingled with coral. The pool is surrounded by a huge flower-bed.

Tiny sprites precede their mistress, the beautiful Fairy Hamza. She looks lovingly at the sleeping prince then, followed by her attendants, goes to prepare fresh delights.

Djalma awakes and believes himself to be under the influence of a dream. Butterflies flutter about the pool and flowers and among them, he distinguishes his beloved Farfalla, who hovers over him. With a sudden movement, he catches her in his hand. Music announces the Fairy's return and, fearful for the butterfly's safety, he hides her in a rose-bush.

Hamza enters accompanied by her sisters, the Diamond Fairy, the Pearl Fairy, the Flower Fairy and the Harvest Fairy, whom she has invited to her wedding with Prince Djalma. Behind follows a brilliant court.

A beautiful child advances with a lighted torch, symbol of Hymen. Attracted by the light, Farfalla darts towards the torch-bearer. Alas! The flame shrivels her wings and she falls into the Prince's arms.

But the enchantment is broken and Farfalla is once more a beautiful princess. Hamza makes a threatening gesture, but her sisters take the part of the lovers and change her into a statue. At the same moment, a fairy palace rises behind the gardens to which the fairies, forming a canopy with their upraised wands, conduct Farfalla and Djamla.

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