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If marches and waltzes are inherently Viennese, Mazurkas are intrinsically Polish and nocturnes are forever Irish at their core, much of the world’s greatest ballet music will always be associated with one city: Paris.
It was here that Chopin’s Les Sylphides – seen as the first truly Romantic ballet – was premiered, and it was also the city where Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring caused a riot at its first performance in 1913. In between these two landmark events came the world premiere of Coppélia in 1870.
Unusually for its time, the principal male role is danced by a woman. In terms of plot, Coppélia is a carbon copy of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann. Both take as their inspiration E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story Der Sandman – a fantastical tale of a dancing doll being brought to life by her creator, the toymaker Dr Coppélius.
Elements of comedy run through the ballet: the doctor imagines that he has succeeded in bringing Coppélia to life when he has, in fact, been dreaming. Musically, from the dainty Waltz to the rousing Mazurka, Coppélia is packed full of bright, saccharine tunes. In that sense, it’s a sort of French Nutcracker – and a delightful one at that.
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Mark Ermler (conductor). Conifer: ROH 006.