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ClassicsOnline Home » CAN-CAN AND OTHER DANCES FROM THE OPERA
Can-Can and Dances from the Opera
 Offenbach's light-hearted re-interpretation of the
Orpheus legend caused some scandal at the first performance of his Orphee
aux Enfers at the Bouffe-Parisiens in 1858, when it seemed that he might be
mocking the opera of Gluck on the same subject, The work was mounted with decor
by Gustave Dore and expanded in 1874 with additional ballets, In Offenbach's
version of the myth, with a libretto by Hector Cremieux and Jacques Francois
Halevy, Orpheus is only too glad to be rid of his nagging Eurydice, who goes
off with Pluto, god of the Underworld, The intervention of Jupiter allows that
master of disguise to descend to the Underworld in the guise of a fly to seek
out Eurydice, The famous can-can, the answer to Gluck's Dance of the Blessed
Spirits, is performed by the infernal corps de ballet after Jupiter has
turned Eurydice into a Bacchante, a metamorphosis that leaves her happily
parted from her.
 -  The most famous of all operatic versions of
Goethe'sFaustis the opera by Charles Gounod, first staged at the Paris
Theatre-Lyrique in 1859, The plot centres on the love of Faust and Marguerite
(Gretchen) and the dances from the opera, a necessary contemporary element of
French opera, include, in addition to the kermesse of the second act, the well
known fifth act Walpurgisnacht on the Brocken in the Hartz Mountains, where the
dances include Les nubiennes, Cleopatra et la coupe d'or, Les troyennes and
Danse de Phrynee, part of a revision of 1869 for the Grand Opera.
 -  Smetana was a leading figure in the creation of
Czech opera and his best known work in this form must be The Bartered Bride
(Prodanci Nevesta), first staged at the Prague National Theatre in 1866, The
bride of the title,
Marenka, is to marry the son of Tobias Micha, apparently
the simpleton Vasek, but eventually is able to marry the man she loves, Micha's
long lost son Jenik,
The Polka ends the first act, while the Furiant
is heard at the inn scene of the second.
 Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann, first
performed in 1881, the year after the composer's death, at the Paris
Opera-Comique, is based on stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann, including the famous
Coppelia tale of love for a puppet. The third act is set in Venice, where the
love of Nicklausse and the courtesan
Giulietta is celebrated in a Barcarole, the
 As versatile as he was prolific, Camille Saint-Saens
scored the most lasting operatic success with his biblical Samson et Dalila,
a work that had its first performance in.1877 at the Hoftheater in Weimar. The
climax of tile opera is the Bacchanale of the third act, where the
Philistines feast and rejoice, mocking the blinded hero, who is about to bring
the house down.
 Dance has an important and necessary part to play in
Mussorgsky's Sorochintsy Fair, based on Gogol and
left unfinished at his death in 1881, included the famous Gopak, intended for
the end of the first act, but transferred by Tcherepnin in his completed
version of the third, where the heroine Parassia recovers her spirits, as she thinks
of her lover Gritzko.
 The Dance of the Hours has enjoyed an
independent orchestral existence, separated from its dramatic context in
Amilcare Ponchielli's opera La Gioconda. The ballet, in four parts,
Dawn, Day, Evening and Night, is given for the entertainment of the guests of
Alvise Badoero, head of the state inquisition, and precedes the dramatic arrest
of La Cieca (The Blind Woman), mother of La Gioconda.
 –  Tchaikovsky based his opera Eugene Onegin
on the work of Pushkin.
It deals with the love of Tatiana and Onegin, with dance
at its very heart. In the second act there is a dance at Madame Larina's and it
is during the Waltz that Onegin antagonizes Lensky, whom he later kills
in a duel, the cause of his own exile. Years later there is a grand ball at the
aristocratic residence of Prince Gremin, epitomized in the Polonaise and
it is here that Onegin meets Tatiana again, now the wife of Prince Gremin, and
parts from her for ever.
 Mussorgsky's opera Khovantshchina has a
libretto by Stasov, mentor of the five nationalist composers under the
influence of Balakirev. The opera deals with the clash between the reformist
supporters of Peter the Great and the traditionalists, the Streltsy musketeers
and Old Believers, with Prince Khovansky. The Dance of Persian Slaves
entertains the Prince in the fourth act.
 There is a very different kind of nationalism in
Manuel de Falla's opera La vida breve. The story of the opera is one of
love and betrayal, as the faithless
Paco deserts his gypsy mistress Salud.
 Borodin, like Mussorgsky, died before he had time to
complete his principal opera, Prince Igor. There is a strong element of
exoticism, particularly in the famous Polovtsian Dances with which Khan
Khonchak entertains his prisoners Prince Igor and the latter's son Vladimir.