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ClassicsOnline Home » DELIBES: Sylvia (Complete Ballet) / SAINT-SAENS: Henry VIII
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Leo Delibes (1836 - 1891)
Sylvia (Complete Ballet)
Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921)
Henry VIII (Ballet Music)
France has a long tradition of ballet, whether as a separate entertainment or as an indispensable part of French opera. 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 Academie 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 nineteenth century, coinciding with the early career of Leo Delibes, who entered the Conservatoire in 1848 and five years later took a position secured for him by Adolphe Adam, composer of Giselle, as accompanist at the Theatre- 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 theatre. For the Theatre-Lyrique he wrote comic operas and for the Folies-Nouvelles and other companies operettas, while continuing to compose music for the church.
Appointment as accompanist at the Opera in 1863 brought Delibes other opportunities. He was allowed to associate with Minkusin 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 opera Lakmé. His last opera was Kassya, orchestrated by Massenet and staged two years after the composer's death in 1891.
Sylvia ou La nymphe de Diane was first staged at the Paris Opera on 14th June 1846. Choreography was by Louis Merante, a pupil of Lucien Petipa, brother of Marius Petipa. Merante had been premier danseur at the Opera, then from 1869 maitre de ballet and from 1873 choreographer. He created the part of the shepherd Aminta in Sylvia, adapting its choreographic demands to his abilities at the age of forty-eight. Designs were by Jules Chéret, August Rube, Philippe Chaperon and Eugene Lacose and the libretto, based on Tasso's Aminta, by Jules Barbier and the Baron de Reinach. The first staging gave the virtuoso role of Sylvia to the Italian dancer Rita Sangalli, with Louise Marquet as Diane and Marie Sanlaville in the travesti role of Eros. The ballet was the first such production at the newly built Palais Gamier.
Rehearsals for Sylvia had started in the summer of 1875, when Delibes had completed only the first act. He worked well with the choreographer and dancers, fitting his music to their requirements with docility unusual in a composer. The ballet itself later came to be criticized for its adherence to conventions and there have been various re-stagings with changes in choreography and in details of the story.
The first act opens with a gathering of Naiads, Dryads and Sylvains, grouped around a statue of Eros in a sacred wood. Aminta arrives, having caught sight of the nymph of Diana, Sylvia, the previous night and now seeking her. He hides but is discovered and dragged before her. She, however, disdains him and shoots an arrow at the statue of Eros, instead wounding the young man standing behind it. The statue comes to life and shoots a golden arrow of love at Sylvia. The gathering disperses, leaving Aminta wounded on the ground. Sylvia returns to see the young man, but is followed by the hunter Orion, who abducts her and carries her off to his cave. A magician appears and cures Aminta, and his fellow-shepherds who now assemble recognise him as Eros and worship him.
In the second act, set in the grotto of Orion, Sylvia repels the hunter's advances. She sits with him at a banquet and makes him and his servants drunk, while she dances in honour of Bacchus. Orion and his men fall asleep and Sylvia now calls on Eros, dedicating her weapons to him. The god of love appears to save her and the walls of the grotto disappear, leaving her free to go.
The third act takes place on the sea-shore near the temple of Diana, the chaste goddess to whom Sylvia has been devoted. There is a celebration in honour of Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry, and of the satyr Silenus. Aminta wanders among the revellers. A young pirate sails in to the shore and disembarks with his crew, among them one who dances for Aminta, revealing herself as Sylvia. Orion appears, seeking to capture Sylvia once more, but she, with Aminta, takes refuge in the temple of Diana. Orion attempts to batter the door of the temple down with his axe, but is greeted by a sudden storm and the appearance of the angry goddess, who shoots him with her arrow. He, however, accuses Sylvia of infidelity to her vows. At this moment the young pirate, raising the lamp he holds, reveals himself as Eros. There is a vision in the clouds of Endymion, the mortal that Diana, goddess of the moon, had once loved, and she is persuaded to pardon the lovers, who are now united in her palace, where Diana and Eros now preside over the final rejoicing.
The music of Sylvia has much to recommend it, apart from the ballet itself. The Pizzicati from the Act III divertissement has enjoyed a fame of its own, while other elements in the ballet, the shepherds' Pastorale in Act I and the celebration of the pleasures of hunting and the defiance of Eros in Les chasseresses, with the set dances for Sylvia herself, notably the Valse lente: L 'escarpolette (Slow Waltz: The Swing), where she swings in the branches under the moonlight.
Ballet had its own place in French opera, of which it had long been a basic part. Once known as the French Mendelssohn, Camille Saint-Saëns was both versatile and prolific, although in France, at least, he outlived his reputation. Of his thirteen operas, the biblical Samson et Dalila remains in repertoire. English history provided a subject for a number of continental composers in the nineteenth century, notably, of course, Donizetti, with his operatic studies of Queen Elisabeth, Mary Queen of Scots and Anne Boleyn. Saint-Saëns contented himself with an opera on the subject of Henry VIII, staged at the Opera on 5th March 1883, two years after his separation from his young wife. The opera, with a libretto by Lucien Detroyat and Armand Silvestre, has running through it an English theme that the composer had found in the library of Buckingham Palace and deals with the proposed marriage of the king with Anne Boleyn, who, unhistorically, is apparently in love with the Spanish ambassador, Don Gomez di Feria. She agrees to marry the king, in order to become queen herself. King Henry now divorces his legal wife, Catherine of Aragon, who acquires a letter that has passed between Anne Boleyn and Don Gomez. Anne visits the dying Catherine, feigning repentance, while Herny and Don Gomez also both attempt to gain possession of the letter, which Catherine, on her death-bed, destroys. Herny remains suspicious and threatens to have Anne Boleyn executed, if she prove unfaithful. The ballet-divertissement from the second act of the opera the Fete populaire, is of suitable variety for the occasion, a Gallic perception of the musical variety of the British isles, with a gathering of the clans, Scottish dances, a rather English Scherzo and what might pass for a final Irish jig.
The Razumovsky Sinfonia
The Razumovsky Sinfonia was established in 1995 and consists of the best players of The Slovak Philharmonic, RSO Bratislava, Slovak Chamber Orchestra and Opera Theatre Orchestra. The ensemble plays exclusively for the Naxos and Marco Polo record labels.
Andrew Mogrelia Andrew Mogrelia is Conductor-in-Residence at the Birmingham Conservatoire and from 1992 to 1994 was Co-Music Director of the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. He has worked extensively in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands in particular. His recordings include a number of releases for Naxos, Donau, Lydian and Marco Polo and he has conducted recent concerts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and with the Residentie Orchestra in The Hague, as well as with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.
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DELIBES: Sylvia (Complete Ballet) / SAINT-SAENS: H...