Premiered in Paris in 1870, and inspired by the fantastical writings of E.T.A Hoffmann, Coppélia tells the story of a young man who falls in love with an exquisite automaton. He is finally brought to his senses by his fiancée. In his production from the magnificent Palais Garnier, choreographer Patrice Bart reveals his interpretation of the ballet.
The ballet Coppélia was originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon to the music of Léo Delibes. The libretto, written by Charles-Louis-Étienne Nuitter was based on E.T.A Hoffmann's short story The Sandmand. The ballet premiered on 25 may 1870 with young Italian ballerina, Giuseppina Bozzacchi in the principal role and with the Paris Opera Ballet.
Frantz is constantly observing the curious and beautiful drawing of Coppélia that Spalanzani gave him. He does not know that Coppélia is an automaton, invented by Doctor Coppélius. Unaware of her true nature, Frantz falls in love with her and abandons his fiancée, Swanilda. Swanilda, who is jealous and intrigued by Coppélius, enters in the doctor's workshop in order to see the mysterious Coppélia. To her surprise, she discovers Coppélia's true nature: Coppélia is nothing but one of the many automatons of the doctor. Yet the doctor also seems to be madly in love with her. As the doctor enters the workshop, she amuses him by doing impressions of his dolls. Coppélius starts drinking and smoking opium. When, as if by magic, Coppélia comes to life and starts dancing. In fact, Swanilda has taken Coppélia's place, suggesting that the doll is alive. Seeing Coppélia makes Coppélius act strange. Swanilda gets scared and tries to escape but Coppélius wants to catch the young woman's soul in order to bring Coppélia to life with it. Frantz rescues her, she ends up running away with him. A wonderful pas de deux closes the ballet.
Many choreographers have given their own version of the original choreography of Arthur Saint-Léon: Marius Petipa in 1884, George Balanchine in 1974, Roland Petit in 1975 and Patrice Bart at the end of the 1990s. In the latter's ballet, Bart brings intensity to the original work. He has given birth to a completely new Coppélius. The doctor is no longer an old mad scientist. Evolving sensually and consumming opium, he is now a charming character. This character has been created specifically for the fascinating José Martinez. The beautiful Dorothée Gilbert, in the role of Swanilda, deploys treasures of seduction as her character tries to win back the love of her fiancé. She is joined by dancer Mathias Heymann who interprets the young Frantz. The costumes recall Degas' paintings, whom Bart loves. For that matter, Bart has devoted a ballet to Degas: Degas's Little Dancer (this ballet is also available on medici.tv). The sets are beautiful and dark, they highlight Swanilda's lightness as well as Delibes's glorious score.
Photo: © Sebastien Mathé.
Alina Cojocaru (Princess Aurora), Federico Bonelli (Prince Florimund), Christopher Saunders (King Florestan XXIV) – The Royal Ballet
Agnès Letestu (Odette), José Martinez (Siegfried) – Corps de Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris
Tamara Rojo (Manon), Carlos Acosta (Des Grieux) – The Royal Ballet
Denis Levaillant – Clairemarie Osta (The Little Dancer), Dorothée Gilbert (The Etoile Dancer), Mathieu Ganio (The Ballet Master) – Corps de Ballet de l'Op...
Patrice Bart's Coppélia: Interviews backstage at the Opéra national de Paris