Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Coppélia - Ballet (1870)
Dorothee Gilbert - Swanilda
Mathias Heymann - Frantz
José Martinez - Coppélius
Fabrice Bourgeois - Spalanzani
Ballet of the Opera National de Paris:
Orchestre Colonne/Koen Kessels
Choreographed by Patrice Bart
rec. Palais Garnier, Paris, March 2011
16:9 aspect; Stereo + dts sound.
OPUS ARTE OA1061 D [83:00 + 30:00]
To me Delibes’ Coppélia, like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, stands amongst the very best ballets for children’s entertainment at Christmas. The world of make-believe weaves a simple yet logical plot with magical overtones, memorable music and colourful characters placed within vibrant settings.
On this DVD, excellent performances are provided by the quartet of principal dancers. The corps de ballet contributes delightfully in well-lit pools of light. Their routines are traditional and much as we would expect. Upstage in comparative gloom are incidental villagers going about their daily business to add a nice air of authenticity. The costumes are elegant and I liked the Dr Caligari style presentation of Coppélius. Kessels sets a traditional pace much more in keeping with the spirit of the work rather than the majestic yet deliberately ponderous pace set by Mark Elder in his Covent Garden recording.
This said, the French choreographer, Bart has decided to consider the psychological undertones of Coppélius and assemble a darker side to the illusionist to provide a love triangle between Swanilda, Frantz and Coppélius rather than the traditional development of the ballet. We have no doll sitting in an upstairs window that maddens Swanilda and whose jealousy provides a humorous situation to feed the development of plot. Instead Coppélius, very much in evidence in Act I for no apparent reason, provides Frantz with a book in which the beautiful doll is displayed. Later, in his house a large book is opened containing a life-size Swanilda/Coppelia.
In Bart’s production the dancing is delightful and the performance has pace yet Delibes’ orchestral picture does not match the plot and does not always fit. To complement the ballet’s dark mood, a sombre street-scene at dusk is provided throughout an Act I which is atmospheric with distorted rising perspectives reminiscent of a 1920s German expressionism setting. The impeding gloom is an improvement over the flat appearance of Osbert Lancaster’s Covent Garden setting in 2000. Here, an opportunity has been lost in not providing a visual contrast between the village scene and the mysterious interior of Coppélius’s house. To dance the cheery and colourful mazurka without a warmer mood of lighting is disappointing. We are told that Bart introduces some orchestral sections from Lakmé and The King has Spoken to help carry the darker atmosphere. Although the additional music does not detract it does seem unnecessary.
The television production supports our interest with well-chosen camera angles and clear focus on the action. It must be said that the production’s visual story was not always easy to follow even when you know the traditional plot.
The DVD in addition to provision of the usual Chapters includes an interesting documentary with interviews of the key dancers, director and choreographer who explain their interpretations. Subtitles are available in English, German and Spanish.
Raymond J Walker
A fleet-footed production in which the dancing is delightful.