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Coppelia (or The girl with enamel eyes) is a mime-ballet in two acts and three scenes. The Paris Opera performed the first performance of Coppelia on May 25, 1870. The original choreography was by Arthur Saint-Leon with music by Leo Delibes.
Act I: In the village square of a Galician village the young Swanilda enters and dances in front of the house of Doctor Coppelius the toymaker. She tries to attract the attention of Coppelia, standing as always, still and serious in the window, a strange girl whom the inhabitants suppose to be the old magician-craftsman’s daughter. Franz is fascinated by her, although he is engaged to Swanhilda, who now watches him enter and throw a kiss towards the window. The jealous girl jokes teasingly with the lad before dancing with her friends. Soon all are joining in a czardas. When the square is empty again Coppelius comes out of his house and goes off, absent-mindedly dropping the key. Swanhilda and her friends find it and, filled with curiosity, enter the house. Coppelius returns, anxiously looking for his key, then, seeing his door open, dashes away, also gets into the house through a window.
Act II: The grils enter the old man’s workshop on tiptoe. There they see Coppelia seated in a corner. Swanilda advances shyly towards her and discovers to her joy that the figure is only a mechanical doll. Meanwhile the others are amusing themselves by turning on all the automatons with which the workshop is filled. Coppelius bursts furiously into the room and all the intruders run away. Only Swanilda has not been able to reach the door in time; she hides in Coppelia’s corner, taking the place of the doll. Franz arrives and, surprised by the indignant magician, confesses that he loves his “daughter” Coppelia and would like to marry her. Feigning friendliness, Coppelius offers his guest a sleeping-draught. When Franz falls senseless to the ground, the doctor carries him to the side of his precious doll (really Swanilda) and calls on his magic arts to transfer the young man’s life to the supposedly inanimate creature whom he loves as if it really were his daughter. Swanilda falls in with the plan and pretends to progress gradually from mechanical movements to a radiant human vitality. To the amazed delight of the old man, she performs two brilliant dances (Spanish and Scottish) until, tired of the joke, she capriciously turns the workshop upside down and wakes Franz, then shows the doctor the real Coppelia in a corner. The two young people go off happily together, while Coppelius sadly embraces his cold automaton. In the village square the marriage of Swanilda and Franz is celebrated with a long series of festive dances, interrupted only by the wedding ceremony and one last, short appearance of the misanthropic Coppelius.
The plot for Coppelia was taken from E. T. A. Hoffman’s story Der Sandmann, which introduced into ballet the world of automatons, dolls, and marionettes. Little of Hoffmann’s Gothic romanticism is left in saint-Leon’s ballet, a lively comedy in which the more dramatic element is concentrated in the strange character of Coppelius, and thus confined to the first scene of Act II. Coppelia was, in fact, the last ballet produced at the Paris Opera before the Franco-Prussian War forced that theater to close its doors, and marked the end of an epoch for ballet as for much else. The choreographer Saint-Leon died three months after the first performance of this, his masterpiece.
California Ballet’s adaptation of Coppelia, choreographed by Maxine Mahon, consists of three-acts: Act I takes place in a square in a small village in Poland, Act II is in the toyshop of Dr. Coppelius and Act III takes us back to the village square for the Festival of the Bell and the wedding of Franz and Swanilda.
California Ballet’s Coppelia uses original sets and costumes that were built at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles for a production they sponsored in 1957 starring Alicia Alonso, Niels Bjorn Larsen and Andre Eglevsky and Igor Youskevitch (who replaced Eglevsky in 1959.)
Leo Delibes already had several operas, operettas and ballets to his credit when he composed Coppelia for the Paris Opera. His success as a writer of such scores lay in his gift for illustrating the action as well as for creating the appropriate atmosphere for the unfolding of the plot because he was a master of orchestration. His provision of local color was always interesting and in Coppelia he was not afraid to borrow directly from the Polish composer, Monszuiko. He also used Hungarian folk tunes for the newly invented dance of the nationally minded Hungarian aristocracy in Budapest, the Czardas, which Saint-Leon staged for the first time in any theatre.
REFERENCE: The Simon & Schuster Book of the Ballet A Complete Reference Guide 1581 to Present