DELIBES: Best of French Ballet
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The Best of French Ballet
Leo Delibes (1836 - 1891)
BalletSuite from Coppelia
Ballet Suite from Sylvia
Ballet Suite from La Source
Le Roi s'amuse: Airs de danse dans lestyle ancien
Francehas a long tradition of ballet, whether as a separate entertainment or as anindispensable part of French Opera. An element of French dance became part ofthe late Baroque musical synthesis of Bach and Handel, and, in a latergeneration, provided the technical basis for the Russian ballet. The Paris Academieroyale de danse was established in 1661 and the associated school, which stillcontinues, in 1713. The art of ballet in France reached a new height in themiddle of the 19th century, coinciding with1he early career of Leo Delibes, whoentered the Conservatoire in 1848 and five years later took a position securedfor him by Adolphe Adam, composer of Giselle, as 8.ccompanist at the TheatreLyrique. Like many other composers he was employed also as an organist, from1862 until 1871 at Saint- Jean-Saint-Fran?ºois, but his primary interest lay inmusic for the Theatre. For the Theatre Lyrique he wrote comic Operas and forthe Folies Nouvelles and other companies operettas, while continuing to composemusic for the church.
Appointmentas accompanist at the Opera in 1863 brought Delibes other opportunities. He wasallowed to associate with Minkus in the composition of the ballet La Source
in 1866, a task in which he was so successful that a commission followed for adivertissement, Le pas des fleurs, to be added to Adolphe Adam's LeCorsaire. Delibes won his greatest popular success with the score for Coppelia,commissioned for 1870 and his first complete ballet score. This was followedsix years later by Sylvia and in 1883 by the important Opera Lakme.
His last Opera was Kassya, orchestrated by Massenet and staged two yearsafter the composer's death in 1891.
The ballet Coppelia was based ona story by the German romantic writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann, DerSandmann, a tale that also served Offenbach in the first act of Les Contes deHoffmann. In the original version Nathanael is subject to brooding melancholy,intensely aware of a sense of evil. As a child he had been terrified of theSandman, who brings sleep to children and whom he had identified with a late-nightvisitor to his father's house, the lawyer Coppelius. He finds out that hisfather and Coppelius conduct chemical experiments, in the course of one ofwhich his father is killed. In later life he is troubled by thebarometer-seller Coppola, whom he identifies with Coppelius. From him he buys atelescope and sees the daughter of Professor Spalanzini, the beautiful Olimpia,whom he later discovers to be a clockwork puppet. Nathanael has been in lovewith Clara, to whom he now returns, but in madness tries to kill her, while thevoice of Coppelius lures him to his own death.
Theform of the story used by Charles Nuitter and Arthur Saint-Leon, the former thearchivist at the Opera and the latter a distinguished choreographer, with aninterest in national dances admirably shown in Coppelia, is morefrivolous. The hero Franz is no haunted figure, while Coppelius seems arelatively harmless character, in spite of his strange delusion. Neverthelessdancers such as Karsavina have succeeded in investing Coppelia withsomething of the tragedy of Hoffmann's original.
was first produced at the Paris Opera on 25th May 1870, an ominous year. Thesixteen-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi as Swanilda danced her first importantrole that took her from the corps de ballet to the position of prima ballerinaat a remarkably early age and Eugenie Fiocre, premiere danseuse of the Opera,who specialised in travesty roles, took the part of Franz, establishing aninitial travesty tradition for the part. Fran?ºois Dauty took the character partof Dr. Coppelius. The ballet enjoyed immediate success and continued in theParis repertoire. Bozzacchi danced the first eighteen performances, but theOpera closed at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War and two months later shewas dead of a fever contracted during the German siege of the city.
combines two stories, the love of Franz and Swanilda and the ambitions of theold puppet-maker Dr. Coppelius, whose desire is to make a living doll. Franzfalls in love with the puppet, but through the mischievous trickery ofSwanilda, who impersonates a puppet in the workshop of Dr. Coppelius, he isbrought to his senses.
The Slav Theme and Variations are takenfrom the first act of the ballet, principally concerned with the love of Franzand Swanilda. The dance of the automata is in the second act, in the workshopof Dr. Coppelius and other dances in the suite are taken from thedivertissements of the third act.
was first produced at the Paris Opera on 14th June 1876, with choreography byLouis Merante, who had created a leading role in La Source. The story was drawnfrom Tasso's pastoral drama Aminta. In the history of Russian ballet Sylviaoccupies an ambiguous position, since its production at the Maryinsky Theatrein St. Petersburg in 1901 was the cause of Dyagilev's resignation, when he wasrequired to submit to formal supervision of his work by older members of thecultural establishment. Dyagilev had already set to work on an ambitiousproduction, in which Bakst and Benois were involved, but opposition to hisundertaking, on the grounds of his youth, led to a breach with PrinceVolkonsky, Director of the Imperial Theatres. The ultimate consequences for thehistory of ballet were far-reaching.
The shepherd Amyntas loves Sylvia, anymph of Diana and therefore vowed to chastity. He is rejected by her, as isthe Black Hunter, Orion. Eros intervenes on behalf of Amyntas and Diana isinduced to forgive her disloyal votary Sylvia and to bless the wedding of thelovers.
Thecomposition of La Source was shared between the Austrian composer LudwigMinkus, who was for many years associated with the ballet companies in Moscowand St. Petersburg, and Delibes, who wrote the second and third of the fourscenes. The ballet was first produced at the Opera on 12th November 1866, itslibretto and choreography by Nuitter and Saint-Leon. The action takes place inPersia, where Na?»la, the spirit of the spring of the title, is defended by thehunter Djemil from the gypsy Morgab, who wants to poison her waters. Nailarewards Djemil with the hand of his beloved Nouredda, providing a magic flowerthat serves to protect her. The Pas des echarpes, with its final CircassianDance offers an element of exoticism that was to recur in the work of Delibes.
Thesix ancient dances, elegant pastiche relying on well known thematic material,were written for the ball scene in a Comedie-Fran?ºaise production of VictorHugo's play Le roi s'amuse in 1882, fifty years after its firstappearance. The play originally deals with the fickle amours of Francois 1erand, with suitable modifications insisted on by the censors, formed the basisof Verdi's Opera Rigoletto, safely transposed to the duchy of Mantua.
was the last Opera of Delibes, based on the story Frinko Balaban byLeopold von Sacher-Masoch, a writer better known for Krafft-Ebing's use of hisname. The Opera, completed by Massenet, who added recitatives and orchestratedthe work after the composer's death, has a Galician setting, and elements ofex