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ClassicsOnline Home » DELIBES: Best of French Ballet
BBC Radio Scotland
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The Best of French Ballet
Leo Delibes (1836 - 1891)
Suite from Coppélia
Ballet Suite from Sylvia
Ballet Suite from La Source
Le Roi s'amuse: Airs de danse dans le
has a long tradition of ballet, whether as a separate entertainment or as an
indispensable part of French Opéra. An element of French dance became part of
the late Baroque musical synthesis of Bach and Handel, and, in a later
generation, provided the technical basis for the Russian ballet. The Paris Académie
royale de danse was established in 1661 and the associated school, which still
continues, in 1713. The art of ballet in France reached a new height in the
middle of the 19th century, coinciding with1he early career of Léo Delibes, who
entered the Conservatoire in 1848 and five years later took a position secured
for him by Adolphe Adam, composer of Giselle, as 8.ccompanist at the Théatre
Lyrique. Like many other composers he was employed also as an organist, from
1862 until 1871 at Saint- Jean-Saint-François, but his primary interest lay in
music for the Théatre. For the Théatre Lyrique he wrote comic Opéras and for
the Folies Nouvelles and other companies operettas, while continuing to compose
music for the church.
as accompanist at the Opéra in 1863 brought Delibes other opportunities. He was
allowed 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 a
divertissement, Le pas des fleurs, to be added to Adolphe Adam's Le
Corsaire. Delibes won his greatest popular success with the score for Coppélia,
commissioned for 1870 and his first complete ballet score. This was followed
six years later by Sylvia and in 1883 by the important Opéra Lakmé.
His last Opéra was Kassya, orchestrated by Massenet and staged two years
after the composer's death in 1891.
The ballet Coppélia was based on
a story by the German romantic writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann, Der
Sandmann, a tale that also served Offenbach in the first act of Les Contes de
Hoffmann. 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 the
Sandman, who brings sleep to children and whom he had identified with a late-night
visitor to his father's house, the lawyer Coppelius. He finds out that his
father and Coppelius conduct chemical experiments, in the course of one of
which his father is killed. In later life he is troubled by the
barometer-seller Coppola, whom he identifies with Coppelius. From him he buys a
telescope and sees the daughter of Professor Spalanzini, the beautiful Olimpia,
whom he later discovers to be a clockwork puppet. Nathanael has been in love
with Clara, to whom he now returns, but in madness tries to kill her, while the
voice of Coppelius lures him to his own death.
form of the story used by Charles Nuitter and Arthur Saint-Leon, the former the
archivist at the Opéra and the latter a distinguished choreographer, with an
interest in national dances admirably shown in Coppélia, is more
frivolous. The hero Franz is no haunted figure, while Coppelius seems a
relatively harmless character, in spite of his strange delusion. Nevertheless
dancers such as Karsavina have succeeded in investing Coppélia with
something of the tragedy of Hoffmann's original.
was first produced at the Paris Opéra on 25th May 1870, an ominous year. The
sixteen-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi as Swanilda danced her first important
role that took her from the corps de ballet to the position of prima ballerina
at a remarkably early age and Eugenie Fiocre, premiere danseuse of the Opéra,
who specialised in travesty roles, took the part of Franz, establishing an
initial travesty tradition for the part. François Dauty took the character part
of Dr. Coppelius. The ballet enjoyed immediate success and continued in the
Paris repertoire. Bozzacchi danced the first eighteen performances, but the
Opéra closed at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War and two months later she
was 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 the
old puppet-maker Dr. Coppelius, whose desire is to make a living doll. Franz
falls in love with the puppet, but through the mischievous trickery of
Swanilda, who impersonates a puppet in the workshop of Dr. Coppelius, he is
brought to his senses.
The Slav Theme and Variations are taken
from the first act of the ballet, principally concerned with the love of Franz
and Swanilda. The dance of the automata is in the second act, in the workshop
of Dr. Coppelius and other dances in the suite are taken from the
divertissements of the third act.
was first produced at the Paris Opéra on 14th June 1876, with choreography by
Louis Merante, who had created a leading role in La Source. The story was drawn
from Tasso's pastoral drama Aminta. In the history of Russian ballet Sylvia
occupies an ambiguous position, since its production at the Maryinsky Théatre
in St. Petersburg in 1901 was the cause of Dyagilev's resignation, when he was
required to submit to formal supervision of his work by older members of the
cultural establishment. Dyagilev had already set to work on an ambitious
production, in which Bakst and Benois were involved, but opposition to his
undertaking, on the grounds of his youth, led to a breach with Prince
Volkonsky, Director of the Imperial Théatres. The ultimate consequences for the
history of ballet were far-reaching.
The shepherd Amyntas loves Sylvia, a
nymph of Diana and therefore vowed to chastity. He is rejected by her, as is
the Black Hunter, Orion. Eros intervenes on behalf of Amyntas and Diana is
induced to forgive her disloyal votary Sylvia and to bless the wedding of the
composition of La Source was shared between the Austrian composer Ludwig
Minkus, who was for many years associated with the ballet companies in Moscow
and St. Petersburg, and Delibes, who wrote the second and third of the four
scenes. The ballet was first produced at the Opéra on 12th November 1866, its
libretto and choreography by Nuitter and Saint-Léon. The action takes place in
Persia, where Naïla, the spirit of the spring of the title, is defended by the
hunter Djémil from the gypsy Morgab, who wants to poison her waters. Naila
rewards Djémil with the hand of his beloved Nouredda, providing a magic flower
that serves to protect her. The Pas des écharpes, with its final Circassian
Dance offers an element of exoticism that was to recur in the work of Delibes.
six ancient dances, elegant pastiche relying on well known thematic material,
were written for the ball scene in a Comédie-Française production of Victor
Hugo's play Le roi s'amuse in 1882, fifty years after its first
appearance. The play originally deals with the fickle amours of Francois 1er
and, with suitable modifications insisted on by the censors, formed the basis
of Verdi's Opéra Rigoletto, safely transposed to the duchy of Mantua.
was the last Opéra of Delibes, based on the story Frinko Balaban by
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a writer better known for Krafft-Ebing's use of his
name. The Opéra, completed by Massenet, who added recitatives and orchestrated
the work after the composer's death, has a Galician setting, and elements of
exoticism, exemplified in the Ukrainian trepak.
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
(Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929.
The orchestra's first conductor was Frantisek Dyk and over the past sixty years
it has worked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovak
The orchestra has made many recordings
for NAXOS ranging from the ballet music of Tchaikovsky to more modern works by
composers such as Copland, Brit ten & Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the
orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Rubinstein and other
Lenárd was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava, where, at the
age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study under Ludovit
Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak Philharmonic
Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the Army
Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak
National Opéra, where he has continued to direct performances.
work with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and
in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled
widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere as a
guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music
Director of the Slovak National Opéra recorded for Opus Opéras by Puccini,
Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.
For Naxos Lenárd has recorded symphonies
and ballet music by Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi
and Rimsky-Korsakov. For Marco Polo he has recorded Havergal Brian's colossal
Gothic symphony to great critical acclaim in the international music press.