This month on Clef Notes we are looking at music and dance. Last time, we gave a brief background on ballet and looked at Tchaikovsky’s classic, Swan Lake. Today, let’s look at another classic that the Cincinnati Ballet will perform during their upcoming season—Delibes’ Coppélia.
Delibes’ Coppélia premiered in 1870 in Paris in collaboration with choreographer Arthur Saint-León. Based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Sandman, the story tells of a doctor who becomes obsessed with his mechanical doll invention. Unlike Hoffman’s tale, the ballet is a comedy, providing a good laugh as audiences watch as young Franz falls in love with the doctor’s mechanical doll creation and his lover Swanhilda works to coax him back. In Saint-León’s original choreography, a woman played the part of Franz. This was changed in a later version with Coppélia undergoing many interpretations over the years.
The ballet and Delibes’ music were a success at the premiere and the ballet has remained a favorite in the repertoire ever since. Below you can watch a performance of Coppélia. Listen for the folk dances Delibes uses in Act I, including a mazurka and a czardas! This was quite revolutionary at the time Delibes composed the ballet, so much that many composers to follow used some type of national dance in their work.