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ClassicsOnline Home » ADAM: Jolie Fille de Gand (La) (Complete Ballet)
"With the catalogues groaning under the weight of so many rival versions of standard works, record companies naturally search for the unusual or neglected. If Adolphe Adam's ballet 'Giselle' remains his most famous work, and still one of the most often performed, 'La jolie fille de Gand', composed just one year later, has been all but forgotten. The performance by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Mogrelia shows it to be a work of considerable spirit. The story is so complicated, involving duelling suitors and changes of scene from Ghent to Venice to Mount Olympus, that even in 1841 people had difficulty following it. Carlotta Grisi and Lucius Petipa were the stars of the Paris Opera ballet then, and now it's just a chance to enjoy unfamiliar, endlessly tuneful light music."
Adolphe Adam (1803-1856)
La jolie fille de Gand
Adolphe Adam must be best remembered for his music for the ballet Giselle.
Born in Paris in 1803, he was the son of Louis Adam, a native of AIsace, who
eamed his son's later description of him as the founder of the French school
of piano-playing. Louis Adam taught at the Paris Conservatoire from 1797 until
1842 and included among his pupils Kalkbrenner and other musicians of future
distinction. Adolphe Adam had varied schooling, eventually as a boarder in a
parental attempt to induce better application. After private coaching, however,
he was able in 1819 to enter the organ class of Benoist at the Conservatoire.
Nevertheless, as he later admitted, his chief ability at this time was in improvisation
and it was only when he was allowed to take over his older contemporary Halévy's
class in solfège that, by teaching, he was able to acquire this necessary and
basic knowledge. He studied counterpoint with Anton Reicha but he owed the greatest
debt in the end to Boieldieu, who gave him every encouragement. In spite of
this he failed to win the expected Grand Prix de Rome, taking instead the deuxième
second Grand Prix in 1825 with his setting of Ariane à Naxos. During
these years, however, he was able to eam a living as an organist, following
the example of so many French composers, and to gain experience of the theatre
first as an unpaid triangle-player at the Gymnase Dramatique and later as timpanist
and chorus-master. As a composer he began to provide material for vaudevilles
and collaborated with the librettist Eugene Scribe, whom he had met while travelling
in Switzerland, in an opéra-vaudeville for the Théâtre du Gymnase. His
first serious work for the theatre was the one-act opera Pierre et Catherine,
with a libretto by Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, given at the Opéra-Comique.
A year later, in 1830, he wrote music for the ballet La Chatte blanche
(The White Cat), described as an English pantomime, for the Théâtre des Nouveautés.
He was, in these years, rapidly making a name for himself and in 1832 was invited
to London to provide music for a military spectacle at Covent Garden, His First
Campaign and for the historical melodrama The Dark Diamand. The following
year he returned to London for the performance of the ballet Faust at the King's
Theatre. His first significant international success in the opera house came
in 1836 with the comic opera Le PostilIon de Lonjumeau. In 1839 he accepted
an invitation to St Petersburg to provide music for Filippo Taglioni and his
daughter Marie and on his return was asked by Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia
to write a work for the Berlin theatre, resulting in another ballet, Les Hamadryades,
also for Taglioni.
It was in 1841 in Paris that Adam enjoyed what has proved his most lasting
success with the music for the ballet Giselle ou Les Wilis, the first
great Paris success also for Carlotta Grisi. This was followed in 1842 by La
Jolie fille de Gand a work that was equally well received, eclipsing the
opera Le Guerillero by Ambroise Thomas, mounted on the same evening.
His necessary relationship with the Opéra-Comique had prospered under the director
François-Louis Crosnier. Adam was less fortunate in the latter's successor,
the former censor André-Alexandre Basset, who vowed never to allow anything
by Adam to be staged by the company. It was this feud that persuaded Adam, with
Crosnier's support, to revive a plan to establish another opera house for younger
composers. The new theatre of the Opéra-National opened in 1847, after Adam
had raised a considerable loan for the project. The time was inopportune. The
political disturbances of 1848 led to the closure of the house and to Adam's
financial ruin. He was now obliged to earn what living he could from music criticism
to meet his immediate needs, but this was not the end of his career as a composer.
In 1849, the year of his father's death, he was appointed professor of composition
at the Conservatoire and he continued to compose for the theatre until his death,
winning particular success with Si j'étais roi (If I were king) at the
new Théâtre-Lyrique in 1852. By 1853 he had paid off his debts but continued
working until his sudden death in 1856. In his posthumously published autobiographical
sketches he admitted that it was his work as a musician that was his sole passion
and pleasure, without which he would have died of boredom.
The ballet-pantomime La Jolie fille de Gand had its first performance
on 22nd June 1842 by the ballet of the Opéra at the Salle de la rue Le Peletier.
The libretto was by Jules Henri Vernoy, Marquis de Saint-Georges, and the dancer
and choreographer known as Albert (François Albert Decombe) and décor was by
Pierre Cicéri, Philastre and Cambon. Choreography was by Albert, who created
the role of the Marquis de San Lucar. Carlotta Grisi danced Beatrix and Lucius
Petipa Benedict, with the veteran Jean Coralli, choreographer of Giselle,
taking the character role of the dancing master, Zephiros.
Marquis de San Lucar
Cesarius, a wealthy goldsmith of Ghent
Zephiros, a dancing master
Don Bustamente, Spaniard, a friend of the Marquis
Benedict, the nephew of Cesarius
Diana, première danseuse at La Fenice
Beatrix, the daughter of Cesarius, betrothed to
Julia, her cousin
Agnes, younger daughter of Cesarius
 The ballet starts with an overture, originally scored for an orchestra that includes cornets and ophicleide.  The first act is set in Ghent and opens in the shop of the rich goldsmith Cesarius. At the back is a glazed door, with a stained glass window each side, looking onto the main street. The dancing-master Zephiros is teaching Beatrix, a proficient dancer, and her clumsier younger sister Agnes. Agnes laughs at the affectations of their teacher.
 His best pupil, however, is the girls' cousin, Julia, who joins them. They dance a minuet together.  Benedict, the nephew of Cesarius, is betrothed to Beatrix. He enters, offering her a bouquet, but she takes it with some indifference, to tlle mockery of Julia, while Agnes tries to comfort him. Julia has received a letter from a nobleman who is bestowing his attentions on her and she shows this to Beatrix and eventually reads it to her.  Cesarius enters, accompanied by a notary, and greets Benedict, although he is clearly much colder towards Julia. Beatrix and Benedict are to marry the next day, and he is delighted, while Beatrix is less happy at the prospect. Agnes congratulates her, but Julia is well aware that Agnes too is in love with Benedict. A fanfare is heard, announcing the coming fair. Benedict goes to dress for the occasion and to call together Beatrix's friends. He is followed out by Zephiros.  The Marquis de San Lucar and his friend, the Spaniard Don Bustarnente, enter the shop and Julia points out the Marquis to Beatrix, who has already noticed him. The Marquis turns his attention to Beatrix, while Cesarius and Julia show jewels to their customers. The Marquis buys a richly ornarmented jewel-casket for himself and some trinkets for the girls. Benedict rejoins them, now in his best clothes, and is introduced by Cesarius to the Marquis, with the news that Benedict is his future son-in-law and is to marry Beatrix the next day. The Marquis is displeased to hear this, but Julia enjoins patience, making it clear that Beatrix does not love Benedict. All is now ready for the fair and the Marquis offers to take Cesarius and his family in his cartiage. Julia is happy to accept at once and Benedict is left alone, eventually accompanied by Agnes, who returns to go with him to the fair.
 The second scene is set in the main square of the city, as the crowds flock to the fair.  Bowmen, the town guilds and pageant wagons, escorted by young girls in white, march in.  Benedict searches in vain for Beatrix, but at last the Marquis arrives and he runs to her, making her sit in an arbour from where she can watch the bowmen compete for the garland of white roses, hanging from a pole.
 A series of divertissements follows. The bowmen fail in their contest, followed by Don Bustamente, who only succeeds in shooting through the wig of Zephiros. Benedict is nearly successful, but it is the Marquis who finally triumphs, giving the garland to Beatrix, while Cesarius tries to console Benedict with thoughts of his coming wedding. Julia praises the Marquis to Beatrix, who, observed by the Marquis, gives her a key, so that they can talk later in her room.
 The festivities continue, first with a pas de trois.  This is followed by a pas de deux, which features in particular Agnes, a role created by Adèle Dumilâtre.  Carlotta Grisi won particular praise for the following pas de deux carillon, danced with Lucius Petipa.  A waltz ends the celebration, but this is interrupted by the outbreak of a storm. The dancers disperse and the Marquis tries to make off with Beatrix, but is forestalled by Benedict. Not to be outwitted, the Marquis pretends to protect Julia and takes Beatrix's key from her, as the storm grows louder.
 The third scene is set in Beatrix's room. It is simply furnished, with a bed, a prie-dieu and crucifix, and a wooden clock. The windows overlook the open countryside. Beatrix comes in, accompanied by her father and Benedict. Cesarius reproaches her for her lack of spirits and she tries to comfort Benedict. The old man blesses the couple and gives his daughter a medallion, with his portrait. Leaving, he embraces her, and goes, accompanied by Benedict. Now alone, she decides that she will marry her lover, as she should. She remembers the Marquis, as she takes off the garland he had given her and starts to undress. There is a sound at the door and she opens it to find, to her alarm, the Marquis. She runs to the bed, wrapping herself in the bed-curtains and begging him to leave her. The Marquis, however, closes the door and kneels, begging her to listen. The door now opens and Julia comes in. Beatrix explains what has happened, while the Marquis le hopes for her support, which she gives him by reminding Beatrix of his wealth and position. In desperation the Marquis takes out a dagger and threatens to kill himself, but they rush to prevent him. There is a knock at the door and Julia hides the Marquis behind the bed-curtains, while Beatrix opens the door to Agnes, come with the news that the wedding is to be at six o'clock the next morning. She is surprised at their frightened looks but embraces her sister and makes to leave, signing to Julia to follow. Julia helps the Marquis to make his escape through the window, before she follows Agnes out. Left alone, Beatrix gives thanks to God, before going to bed.
 The second act opens in the Venetian Palazzo of the Marquis, who has abducted Beatrix and made her his mistress. She reclines on a sofa, listening to his words of love, while merchants bring her shawls and jewels. She is content, however, with his love.  Friends arrive, making much of Beatrix. Zephiros seeks patronage from the Marquis for the ball he is giving that evening and is delighted to see Beatrix, congratulating her, to her embarrassment, on her marriage. He asks her about her dancing and starts to give her a lesson.  Julia now enters. She has become a dancer and her teacher Zephiros presents her to the Marquis. She is accompanied by a nobleman, Count Leonardo, not, as expected Don Bustamente. Beatrix expresses her displeasure at this fickleness but Julia assures her that she will find herself in the same position.  They are joined by Don Bustamente, who is accompanied by Diana, the première danseuse at La Fenice. He ignores Julia and presents Diana to the Marquis, who is impressed by her. Beatrix is annoyed and reproaches her lover, while Julia is angry with Don Bustamente. He and Count Leonardo threaten each other, while Beatrix and Diana quarrel. Zephiros tries to intervene but is accused of being at the root of the trouble and it is left to the Marquis to pacify them.  Carnival music is heard and Zephiros invites the guests to the ball. Beatrix looks sadly at the medallion, with her father's miniature, that she still wears. The Marquis soothes her and orders carnival costumes to be brought. They each choose a mask and a domino and led by torch-bearers set out with Zephiros for the ball.
 The magnificent ball-room is full of masked revellers, the Marquis and Beatrix among them, as Zephiros announces the start of the entertainment. Diana dances, accompanied by nymphs, and the Marquis congratulates her, provoking Beatrix to jealousy.  There follows a Polish dance, a Cracovienne,  and a pas seul.  Now Beatrix dances, dressed as the huntress Diana, and is triumphant, a performance that won Carlotta Grisi special praise. Flowers are showered on her and from these she takes a rose and gives it to the Marquis.  All the dancers now join in a wild galop. The Marquis places a garland on Beatrix's head, but a mysterious figure emerges from the crowd and hurls it to the ground.  He is revealed as Cesarius. Beatrix seeks his pardon but he orders her to leave. Two other dancers are revealed as Benedict and Agnes, who seek pardon for Beatrix. The Marquis intervenes and Benedict draws his sword, but is prevented from further action by Cesarius, who regards the behaviour of the Marquis as beneath contempt. The old man goes on to demand that she make her choice and when she hesitates, he curses her. Beatrix faints, falling into the arms of the Marquis, and the dancers make way for Cesarius, as he leaves, supported by Benedict and Agnes.
 The last act opens in the garden of the villa of the Marquis near Venice. The moon is shining, its light reflected from the waters of the River Brenta that flows by the borders of the park. The garden is lit by lanterns. Guests, some disguised as nymphs or bacchantes, mingle, while others lie on the grass. There are tables laden with rich food and at one of these are seated the Marquis, Beatrix, Don Bustamente, Diana, Julia and Zephiros.  The Marquis tries to distract Beatrix, as one of the women dances for her.  Then they turn to gambling and Zephiros loses all his money to Julia.  Beatrix and the Marquis stroll in the park and he shows her the rose she gave him after her dance as Diana the Huntress, a flower that he wears on his cloak. Don Bustamente invites the Marquis to gamble but Beatrix tries to dissuade him. Eventually he gives way to Don Bustamente and soon loses everything, but Beatrix assures him that they can live on her jewels. These he stakes, and loses. Don Bustamente now wagers all his winnings against Beatrix, represented by the rose she had given the Marquis. He hesitates but then plays and loses, allowing Don Bustamente to take the rose, which he now wears.  Beatrix, returning, mistakes Don Bustamente, still masked but wearing her rose, for the Marquis and begs him to stop gambling. The don, however, leads her to a gondola and they leave together, to the amusement of the guests.
 The scene changes to a boudoir in the Palazzo of the Marquis illuminated by the light of the moon. Don Bustamente, masked, leads Beatrix in. She urges him to remove his mask, but he refuses and embraces her.  The Marquis bursts in with his sword drawn, but Beatrix tries to intervene and learns that he has gambled her away. The two men fight and Don Bustamente is killed, his body falling into the canal. Beatrix runs away from the scene, horrified, while the Marquis, distraught, rushes away in the opposite direction.
 The following scene is set in the square of a village near Ghent. In the background is a cliff and there are steps cut into the rock. To the left is a pretty village house and to the right a church. Agnes and Benedict are seen, with a notary, while villagers offer the bride bouquets. Benedict goes into the house, followed by Agnes, the notary and the old family governess.  The villagers dance, joined by Zephiros with a gypsy band and, the centre of attention, Julia. Beatrix enters, weak and hardly able to stand, and sits on a stone bench. Julia recognises her and invites her to join the dancers, but she refuses.  Benedict returns, about to lead his bride to the altar. He throws money to the crowd but does not recognise Beatrix, to her dismay. The crowd disperses and Beatrix is left alone. The wedding procession now emerges from Cesarius's house and Beatrix learns, in response to her anxious questions, that her father is dead. In the greatest distress, she seems to lose her wits, climbing the rocky steps, ready to throw herself down into the chasm below.
 In a final scene Beatrix awakes in her own bedroom. She looks around at fIrst in fear and sees the crown of roses. She falls to her knees and prays. Now the clock strikes six, the time when she had planned to elope with the Marquis, but her memories of her dream dissuade her. She opens the window and sees the Marquis, but then turns to the door, where Cesarius, Agnes and Benedict are waiting for her. To the anger of I the disappointed Marquis, who makes off, father and daughter embrace, Benedict kneels before her and Agnes places on her head a garland of roses. Cesarius joins their hands and the true wedding procession forms.
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ADAM: Jolie Fille de Gand (La) (Complete Ballet)