In addition to excellent dances, this classical ballet has two other undoubted merits. First, Coppelia is a comedy of which there are not so many among the masterpieces
In addition to excellent dances, this classical ballet has two other undoubted merits. First, Coppelia is a comedy of which there are not so many among the masterpieces of the classical legacy. Second, it is a comedy with fine music. Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s assessment of Delibes’ skill in “the sphere of ballet” is well-known: “The first ballet in which music constitutes not only the main, but the sole interest. What beauty, what elegance, what richness of melody, rhythm and harmony”. True, these words refer to another of the composer’s ballets, but they are equally applicable to Coppelia. It is not fortuitous that music from this ballet is played at concerts: for instance, just before the forthcoming Bolshoi Theatre premiere, the State Orchestra of Russia played excerpts from Coppelia at the Big Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. Funnily enough, the main theme of this light-hearted ballet, is taken from E.T.A. Hoffman’s anything but joyful novellas — mainly from The Sandman. With Hoffman, the youth’s infatuation with the doll ends tragically, while in the ballet — the youth marries the lively and energetic Swanhilda who proved capable of outwitting the cunning creator of the wax doll — Coppelia, the latter coming close to causing a break-up between the two sweethearts.
Coppelia was premiered in 1870 at the Paris Opera (The National Academy of Music and Dance). It was choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon, the choreographer who had relinquished his post as head of the Petersburg Ballet to Marius Petipa. Saint-Leon was also a virtuoso dancer, expert on dance folklore, composer and violinist. It was his interest in folk dance that was responsible for the appearance in the music score of such a rich ’selection’ of dance melodies based on folklore. Coppelia is considered to be one of the first ballets to contain Slav motifs.
In the 14 years between its Paris premiere and Petipa’s own production of the ballet at the Petersburg Bolshoi Theatre, Coppelia was presented in Brussels, at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre and in London. Before the end of the 19th century, it was also staged in New York, Milan, Copenhagen, Munich and once more in Petersburg, this time at the Mariynsky Theatre. There were more productions in the 20th century, including ultra modern interpretations when sometimes even its comic element was dropped. The second (1894) Petersburg version of Coppelia (choreographed by Marius Petipa and staged by the Italian teacher and ballet master, Enrico Cecchetti, who was working at the time in Petersburg), was revived at the Bolshoi Theatre by ballet scholar Pavel Gershenzon and Sergei Vikharev, famous Mariynsky Theatre principal dancer and ballet master-restorer.
In 2001, the premire of their reconstructed Coppelia was held at Novosibirsk Theatre of Opera and Ballet. The production made such an impact on audiences that the following year it won a Golden Mask, the National theatre prize.