What’s Coppélia all about?
Part One: History and Background
Coppélia is a well-known ballet and is found in the repertoire of many professional ballets throughout the world. It’s a bit unusual for a classical ballet because, unlike so many of them, it is a comic ballet. Yes, that’s right, a ballet with lots of funny bits!
It was originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon with music by Leo Delibes. The libretto is by Charles Nuitter. Nuitter’s libretto and stage design was based upon two stories by E.T.A Hoffman, The Sandman and Die Puppe (The Doll). Another one of Hoffman’s stories (as you may know) was used as the story for The Nutcracker. Coppélia premiered in May of 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial l’Opéra in Paris, with the 16-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi in the principal role of Swanhilde. It eventually became one of the most performed ballets at the Opera.
Modern-day productions are usually derived from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa who also choreographed Don Quixote, La Bayadère and The Sleeping Beauty to name a few. Petipa did this with the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg in the late 19th century. Petipa’s choreography was documented with choreographic notatation at the turn of the 20th century. These notations were later used to stage the St. Petersburg version for such companies as the Vic-Wells Ballet (precursor of today’s Royal Ballet).
In the twentieth century George Balchine’s version of Coppélia was touted as “THE HAPPIEST BALLET ON EARTH!”. Now in its third century of performances, it is regarded as an audience favorite and timeless classic.
This is the first in a series of blogs about Coppélia by Lisa McCarty. Ballet Virginia International is currently in the early stages of production for Coppélia and very much looking forward to bringing this fun classic to the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, April 8th, 2017.