Full Length Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre featuring Natalia Osipova
|Based on||Der Sandmann by E. T. A. Hoffmann|
|Premiere||25 May 1870
Théâtre Impérial l’Opéra, Paris
Coppélia (sometimes subtitled: La Fille aux Yeux d’Émail (The Girl with the Enamel Eyes)) is a comic ballet from 1870 originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon to the music of Léo Delibes, with libretto by Charles-Louis-Étienne Nuitter. Nuitter’s libretto and mise-en-scène was based upon E. T. A. Hoffmann‘s short story Der Sandmann (The Sandman). In Greek, κοπέλα (or κοπελιά in some dialects) means young woman. Coppélia premiered on 25 May 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra, with the 16-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi in the principal role of Swanhilda and ballerina Eugénie Fiocre playing the part of Frantz en travesti. The costumes were designed by Paul Lormier and Alfred Albert, the scenery by Charles-Antoine Cambon (Act I, scene 1; Act II, scene 1), and Édouard Desplechin and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre (Act I, scene 2).
The ballet’s first flush of success was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris (which also led to the early death of Giuseppina Bozzacchi, on her 17th birthday), but eventually it became the most-performed ballet at the Opéra.
Modern-day productions are traditionally derived from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg in the late 19th century. Petipa’s choreography was documented in the Stepanov method of choreographic notation 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).
Dr. Coppélius is a doctor who has made a life-size dancing doll. It is so lifelike that Franz, a village youth, becomes infatuated with it and sets aside his heart’s true desire, Swanhilda. She shows him his folly by dressing as the doll, pretending to make it come to life and ultimately saving him from an untimely end at the hands of the inventor.
- Act I
The story begins during a town festival to celebrate the arrival of a new bell. The town crier announces that, when it arrives, anyone who becomes married will be awarded a special gift of money. Swanhilda and Franz plan to marry during the festival. However, Swanhilda becomes unhappy with Franz because he seems to be paying more attention to a girl named Coppélia, who sits motionless on the balcony of a nearby house. The house belongs to a mysterious and faintly diabolical inventor, Doctor Coppélius. Although Coppélia spends all of her time sitting motionless and reading, Franz is mesmerized by her beauty and is determined to attract her attention. Still upset with Franz, Swanhilda shakes an ear of wheat to her head: if it rattles, then she will know that Franz loves her. Upon doing this, however, she hears nothing. When she shakes it by Franz’s head, he also hears nothing; but then he tells her that it rattles. However, she does not believe him and runs away heartbroken.
Later on, Dr. Coppelius leaves his house and is heckled by a group of boys. After shooing them away, he continues on without realizing that he has dropped his keys in the melée. Swanhilda finds the keys, which gives her the idea of learning more about Coppélia. She and her friends decide to enter Dr. Coppelius’ house. Meanwhile, Franz develops his own plan to meet Coppélia, climbing a ladder to her balcony.
- Act II
Swanhilda and her friends find themselves in a large room filled with people. However, the occupants aren’t moving. The girls discover that, rather than people, these are life-size mechanical dolls. They quickly wind them up and watch them move. Swanhilda also finds Coppélia behind a curtain and discovers that she, too, is a doll.
Dr. Coppelius returns home to find the girls. He becomes angry with them, not only for trespassing but for also disturbing his workroom. He kicks them out and begins cleaning up the mess. However, upon noticing Franz at the window, Coppélius invites him in. The inventor wants to bring Coppélia to life but, to do that, he needs a human sacrifice. With a magic spell, he will take Franz’s spirit and transfer it to Coppélia. After Dr. Coppelius proffers him some wine laced with sleeping powder, Franz begins to fall asleep. The inventor then readies his magic spell.
However, Dr. Coppelius did not expel all the girls: Swanhilda is still there, hidden behind a curtain. She dresses up in Coppélia’s clothes and pretends that the doll has come to life. She wakes Franz and then winds up all the mechanical dolls to aid their escape. Dr. Coppelius becomes confused and then saddened when he finds a lifeless Coppélia behind the curtain.
(Note: In some Russian versions of the ballet, after getting caught, Swanhilda confesses to Dr. Coppelius about what she and her friends did and her situation with Franz. Coppelius decides to forgive Swanhilda and teach her how to act like a doll coming to life to fool Franz, thus ending Act 2 on a happier note.)
- Act III
Swanhilda and Franz are about to make their wedding vows when the angry Dr. Coppelius appears, claiming damages. Dismayed at having caused such an upset, Swanhilda offers Dr. Coppelius her dowry in return for his forgiveness. However, Franz tells Swanhilda to keep her dowry and offers to pay Dr. Coppelius instead. At that point, the mayor intervenes and gives Dr. Coppelius a bag of money, which placates him. Swanhilda and Franz are married and the entire town celebrates by dancing.
Influence and background
The festive wedding-day divertissements in the village square that occupy Act III are often deleted in modern danced versions.
Some influence on this story comes from travelling shows of the late 18th and early 19th centuries starring mechanical automata. This field of entertainment has been under-documented, but a recent survey of the field is contained in The Mechanical Turk by Tom Standage (2002).
A variation of the Coppélia story is contained in Jacques Offenbach‘s opera, The Tales of Hoffmann, a fictional work about the same Hoffmann who wrote the story that inspired Coppélia. The opera consists of a prologue, three fantastic tales in which Hoffmann is a participant, and an epilogue. In the first story, based on Der Sandmann, Hoffmann falls in love with a mechanical doll, Olympia, but in this case, the story has a melancholy tinge as the doll was destroyed by Dr. Coppelius, who share the same name as Coppelius who wants Coppélia to come to life, after he didn’t get a check from Spalanzani for Olympia’s eyes.
San Francisco Ballet
In 1939, San Francisco Ballet produced a version of Coppélia choreographed by Willam Christensen which was the first American complete version of the ballet. It starred Willam Christensen as Franz, Earl Riggins as Dr. Coppelius, and Janet Reed as Swanhilda and was an instant hit.
In 1974, George Balanchine choreographed a version of Coppélia for the New York City Ballet. He was assisted by Alexandra Danilova, who had performed the title role many times during her dancing career. She staged the Petipa choreography for Act II. Balanchine created new choreography for Act III and for the mazurka, czardas and Franz’s variation in Act I. Patricia McBride danced the role of Swanhilda the friendliest girl; Helgi Tomasson danced the role of Franz; Shaun O’Brian portrayed Dr. Coppélius.
Second Life – LPBA
From 2011 the Little Princess Ballet Academy (LPBA) has performed Coppélia in Second Life. The adaptation follows the original in three acts, but the mime parts are problematic to perform in Second Life and has been changed, together with some changes in the sequences. All parts are played by individual avatars.
Monte Carlo Ballet Company – Coppel-I-A
In 2019 Jean-Christophe Maillot created a modernized version of Coppélia for the Monte Carlo Ballet Company, calling it Coppél-i-A. In it, Coppelia is an android with artificial intelligence. The original music was rewritten by Maillot’s brother Bertrand Maillot to suit the dystopian theme.
Coppelia – feature film
A family feature film, Coppelia, was released in 2021, directed and written by Jeff Tudor, Steven De Beul and Ben Tesseur. The film has no dialogue and mixes live action dance with animation. It was inspired by choreographer Ted Brandsen’s 2008 production created for Dutch National Ballet. In Brandsen’s production, and in the film, Doctor Coppelius is updated from toymaker to cosmetic surgeon and Coppelia is a robot. The movie deals with issues such as the pressures of social media, the lure of superficial beauty and the importance of being yourself. The film stars ballerina, author and activist Michaela DePrince, Daniel Camargo, Vito Mazzeo, Darcey Bussell, Irek Mukahmedov, Sasha Mukahmedov, Jan Kooijman, Igone de Jongh and artists of Dutch National Ballet. Composer Maurizio Malagnini wrote the original score. The movie premiered at Annecy Festival 2021 and won the Golden Punt for Best Fiction Feature at the 40th Cambridge Film Festival.
Below is the résumé of scenes and dances taken from the theatre program of the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet. It is the Imperial Ballet’s production as staged by Marius Petipa that serves as the basis for all modern-day productions.
- no. 01 Prélude et Mazurka
- no. 02 Valse et jalousie
- no. 03 Scène
- no. 04 Mazurka
- no. 05 Scène
- no. 06 Ballade de l’Épi
- no. 07 Thème slave varié
- no. 08 Csárdás
- no. 09 Finale
- no. 10 Introduction et scène
- no. 11 Jeux avec les automates
- no. 12 Scène à boire: Franz et Dr. Coppélius
- no. 13 Scène et danse de la Poupée
- no. 14 L’espièglerie de Swanhilde
- no. 15 Boléro: Danse espagnol
- no. 16 Gigue: Danse écossaise
- no. 17 Scène finale
- no. 18 Marche de la cloche
Fête de la cloche
- no. 19 Valse des heures
- no. 20 Variation: “L’aurore”
- no. 21 Variation: “La prière”
- no. 22 “Le travail”
- no. 23 “L’hymen—Noce villageoise”
- no. 24 “La discorde et la guerre” (this number was omitted from Imperial-era performances and as such is often absent from many modern-day productions)
Grand Pas de deux –
- no. 25 Grand adage: “La paix”
- supplement – Variation pour le début de Léontine Beaugrand (music: Léo Delibes; 1872)
- supplement – Variation: “Danse du marié”, ca. 1875 (music: Ernest Guiraud)
- supplement – Variation pour Mlle. Dionesiia Potapenko: “Travail”, 1904 (music: Léo Delibes, from the ballet Sylvia)
- no. 26 Variation: “Danse de Fête”
- no. 27 Finale: Galop générale
Coppélia was featured in the Danish film Ballerina, shown in two parts in the U.S. on Walt Disney‘s Wonderful World of Color in 1966 and later released theatrically in Europe. Dancer Kirsten Simone played the lead. A version is included in the revue Wake Up and Dream.
“Coppélia’s Casket” (“Kopperia no Hitsugi”), sung by the Japanese duo Ali Project, (Arika Takarano and Katakura Mikiya) is the title of the introductory song of Japanese anime Noir, the story of two killers. “Coppélia’s Casket” contains several references to the story of Coppélia, such as “People are tired of dancing dolls.”
A manga (2008-2016) and anime (2013) series Coppelion is named after the dancing doll.
A movie, The Fantastic World of Dr. Coppelius / El fantástico mundo del doctor Coppelius, released on 25 December 1968, In the U.S., was titled Dr. Coppelius. The Spanish production, with the ballet company and orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceo of Barcelona, features Walter Slezak as Dr. Coppelius and Claudia Corday in the doll-comes-to-life role, Swanhilda / Coppelia.
A scene from the famous ballet film The Red Shoes shows Moira Shearer playing the fictional Victoria Page. Vicky is seen as Swanhilda in the scene in which she pretends to be Coppelia, and fools even Dr. Coppelius.
The ballet Coppélia and Giuseppina Bozzacchi‘s tragic fate are narrated in the novel No Telling (London: Vintage, 2004) by British author Adam Thorpe (*1956).
The second season of the anime series Princess Tutu (2002-2003), makes many references to Coppélia, beginning with episode 15, “Kapitel des Junges: Coppelia”. where one of the main characters begins trying to obtain a “pure heart” as a sacrifice to revive a monster Raven. The character Princess Tutu puts a stop to this by reminding the potential sacrifices that they really do not want to give up their hearts, in one instance stating that Swanhilda, though she pretended to be a doll, wanted to be able to laugh and cry as a real human with her fiancé.
The Star Trek: Picard season one finale episodes, “Et in Arcadio Ego, Part I” and “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part II” feature a planet named Coppelius, the adoptive homeworld of a group of highly evolved synthetic lifeforms akin to the lifelike dolls fashioned in Coppélia.
A family feature film, Coppelia, was released in 2021. Directed and written by Jeff Tudor, Steven De Beul and Ben Tesseur, the film mixes live action dance with animation. It was inspired by Ted Brandsen’s 2008 production created for Dutch National Ballet, which updates Doctor Coppelius from toymaker to cosmetic surgeon. The film stars ballerina, author and activist Michaela DePrince, Daniel Camargo, Vito Mazzeo, Darcey Bussell, Irek Mukahmedov, Sasha Mukahmedov, Jan Kooijman, Igone de Jongh and artists of Dutch National Ballet. The movie premiered at Annecy Festival 2021 and won the Golden Punt for Best Fiction Feature at the 40th Cambridge Film Festival.
- Clarke, Mary; Vaughan, David (1977). Encyclopedia of Dance and Ballet. London. ISBN 9780273010883.
- Garafola, Lynn, “The Travesty Dancer in Nineteenth-Century Ballet” in Dance Research Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 35-40. (Also reprinted in Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright (eds) Moving History / Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader, Wesleyan University Press, 2001, pp. 210-216. ISBN 0-8195-6413-3)
- Sharon, Packer (19 November 2014). Neuroscience in science fiction films. Jefferson, North Carolina. ISBN 978-1476618005. OCLC 895335093.
- Macaulay, Alastair (30 May 2012). “Recreating Lost Instants in a Reconstructed Ballet”. The New York Times. New York, United States. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
- “LPBA presents Coppelia ~ Dance Queens”. sldancequeens.blogspot.se.
- GARLAND, NINA (25 June 1985). “ACTRESS ARTIST”. Dance Magazine. 945 (123): 35–225.
- “Dance Review: Copplél-I.A. world premiere”. The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
- Ballets de Monte-Carlo : la musique de ” Coppél-iA “, archived from the original on 22 December 2021, retrieved 5 January 2020
- “Dr. Coppelius (1966)”. IMDb.