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ClassicsOnline Home » ADAM, A.: Giselle [Ballet] (Highlights) (Slovak Radio Symphony, Mogrelia)
Of his many works for the stage, Adolphe Adam’s ballet Giselle ou Les Wilis is the best-known. The story is based on a legend in which the Wilis, or ghosts of unmarried girls, seek revenge on the living. Speedily written amidst a hotbed of Parisian infatuations and given a timeless parochial setting, this archetypal romantic ballet has everything from unrequited love to deceit, drama, tragedy, and conciliatory resolution. Andrew Mogrelia has been acclaimed for conducting of ‘warmth, grace and vitality’. (The Penguin Guide on Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty 8.550490–92)
Adolphe Adam (1803–1856)
Giselle ou Les Wilis: Ballet-pantomime in Two Acts
The son of a distinguished piano-teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, Adolphe Adam was born in Paris in 1803. His contemporary popular success depended on a series of compositions for the stage, with much of his later work rendered necessary by the failure of a theatre venture in the revolution of 1848 and the consequent need to pay off heavy debts. These were cleared by the time of his death in 1858. The best known of Adam’s eighty works for the stage remains his ballet Giselle or Les Wilis, an archetypal romantic ballet, with ingredients that had already appeared in La Sylphide and were to re-appear in various forms as the century went on.
Giselle is based on a legend according to which the ghosts of unmarried girls return to seek revenge on the living. The Wilis had already been described in a story in Heinrich Heine’s De l’Allemagne, although Heine received no credit for Giselle. The immediate inspiration for the ballet came from Théophile Gautier, spurred by his infatuation with the dancer Carlotta Grisi. Elements from Victor Hugo were to be incorporated in a libretto that was realised by the writer Jules Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges in three days, while Adam took a week to sketch the music and three to complete it, making some use of earlier material. The choreography was devised by the Paris Opéra ballet-master Jean Coralli, with Giselle’s dances choreographed by Carlotta Grisi’s teacher and lover Jules Perrot. Designs were by Pierre Ciceri, who had also designed the sets for La Sylphide. The ballet was first produced on 18 June 1841 at the Opéra, the Théâtre de l’Académie royale de musique, when Grisi danced Giselle, Lucien Petipa Albrecht and Adèle Dumilâtre the Queen of the Wilis, Myrthe. Various changes have been made in the ballet since 1841, not least in a number of versions given in Russia, with an early restaging there by Perrot with Fanny Elssler, a rival Giselle, and Marius Petipa. The latter made his own choreographic contribution to later productions. The score includes interpolated scenes by Friedrich Burgmüller, who is best known for the peasant pas de deux in Act I of Giselle.
After the Introduction , the curtain opens to reveal the square of a Rhineland village. To the left of the stage is the house where Giselle and her mother live and to the right the house of the huntsman Hilarion, who is in love with Giselle. It is the time of the grape-harvest, and grape-pickers enter . Hilarion goes to knock on Giselle’s door, but is interrupted by the approach of Duke Albrecht and his attendant Wilfried. Albrecht removes his cloak and sword, resolved to woo Giselle, in the guise of a simple peasant, Loys, a course from which Wilfried tries to dissuade him . He knocks on the door, but hides, so that Giselle, when she comes out, sees no-one. She dances , but turning to go indoors again is waylaid by Albrecht. They dance together and love is inevitable, when a daisy, the petals of which she is plucking, assures her that Albrecht loves her. Hilarion emerges, and tries to disillusion Giselle, who will not hear him.
The grape-pickers return  and there is a waltz in which Giselle joins, with Albrecht. [Nevertheless Berthe, Giselle’s mother, warns her daughter to take care, since she has a weak heart. Giselle and her mother go into their house, while the sound of an approaching hunt is heard. The hunting-party enters, with Bathilde, betrothed to Albrecht, and her father, the Prince of Kurland. Giselle and Berthe offer the nobles refreshment and Bathilde and her father retire into the house to rest.] There is a march of the grape-pickers  and dancing to entertain the party  to . [Hilarion, who has found Albrecht’s sword and cloak, now tries to convince Giselle that her new lover is a nobleman and not to be trusted. There is a quarrel between the two men and this ends when Hilarion sounds his hunting-horn. Bathilde and her father come out and recognise Albrecht, who greets them, kissing Bathilde’s hand.] Giselle’s dreams are shattered and, out of her mind, she dances madly, finally dying of a broken heart. 
The second act is set in a clearing in the woods, where Giselle has been buried. Hilarion comes in , [but is terrified away by the distant sight of the will-o’-the-wisps.] The ghostly Queen Myrthe uses her magic  [and the Wilis appear, the ghosts of girls who had died unwed and now seek their revenge on all men. Each is summoned from her grave, ending with the ghost of Giselle, who dances. As they disappear, Albrecht comes in, seeking the grave of his Giselle, whose spirit now returns to dance with him.] The Wilis, however, have met with Hilarion , whom they now dance to death. Albrecht would meet the same fate  to , but Giselle saves him by dancing with him until break of day, when the power of the Wilis must be broken .
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ADAM, A.: Giselle [Ballet] (Highlights) (Slovak Ra...