Carlotta Grisi as Giselle (1841)
|Choreographer||Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa (revival)|
|Premiere||28 June 1841 – Paris, France|
|Original ballet company||Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique|
Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis
|Created for||Carlotta Grisi and Lucien Petipa|
Giselle (French: Giselle ou les Wilis) is a ballet in two acts with a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, music by Adolphe Adam, and choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. The librettist took his inspiration from a poem by Heinrich Heine. The ballet tells the story of a lovely peasant girl named Giselle who has a passion for dancing, and when she finds out the man she loves is engaged to someone else she dies of a broken heart. Giselle was first presented by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris, France, on 28 June 1841. The choreography in modern productions generally derives from the revivals of Marius Petipa for the Imperial Russian Ballet (1884, 1899, 1903).
The pervasive atmosphere of the ballet was indebted to the works of Victor Hugo, Heinrich Heine, and the ballet critic Théophile Gautier. The librettist Verney de Saint-Georges had first been attracted to Hugo's Orientales with its evocation of a ballroom where dancers were condemned to dance all night, and to Heine's De l'Allemagne and its depiction of the Wilis, Slavonic supernatural beings who lured young men to death by dancing. The notion may have been based on St. Vitus's dance, the dancing mania of the Middle Ages.
The Rhineland of the Middle Ages. A village is celebrating the grape harvest. Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a young nobleman, is madly in love with the shy and beautiful village girl, Giselle. Though he is already betrothed to Bathilde, the princess of Courtland, he disguises himself as a humble villager named 'Loys' in order to woo Giselle, who knows nothing of his true identity and happily returns his affections.
Hilarion, a coarse-mannered gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle and attempts to convince her that 'Loys' is untrustworthy, but Giselle ignores all warnings. Giselle's mother Berthe is very protective of her daughter, as Giselle has a weak heart that leaves her in delicate health. Fearing that a romantic relationship with 'Loys' would cause Giselle potentially harmful stress, Berthe attempts to keep her away from him.
A hunting party of noblemen arrives at the village, and Albrecht quickly escapes before he is recognized by Bathilde and her father, who are in attendance. The villagers welcome the party, offer them refreshments, and perform several dances in celebration of the harvest. Bathilde is charmed with Giselle's sweet and demure nature, not knowing of her fiance's relationship with her. Giselle is honored when the beautiful stranger offers her a necklace as a gift. Hilarion halts the festivities by presenting Giselle with Albrecht's sword, proving the Duke's true identity. All present are shocked by the revelation, but none more than Giselle, who becomes inconsolable when faced with her lover's deception. Knowing now that they can never be together, Giselle flies into a tragic fit of grief, causing her weak heart to give out at last. She dies in Albrecht's arms.
A moonlit glade near Giselle's grave. Hilarion mourns at Giselle's headstone, but is frightened away by the arrival of the Wilis, the spirits of women jilted by their lovers and who died before their weddings. The Wilis, led by their merciless queen, Myrtha, haunt the forest at night to seek revenge on any man they encounter, forcing their victims to dance until they die of exhaustion.
Myrtha and the Wilis rouse Giselle's spirit from her grave and induct her into their clan, before disappearing into the forest. Albrecht arrives to lay flowers on Giselle's grave, and he weeps with guilt over her death. Giselle's spirit appears, and Albrecht begs for her forgiveness. Giselle, her love undiminished, gently forgives him. She disappears to join the rest of the Wilis, and Albrecht desperately follows her.
Meanwhile, the Wilis have cornered Hilarion. They use their magic to force him to dance until he is nearly dead, and then drown him in a nearby lake. They then turn on Albrecht, sentencing him to death as well. He pleads to Myrtha for his life, but she coldly refuses. Giselle's pleas are also overlooked, and Albrecht is forced to dance until sunrise. However, the power of Giselle's love counters the Wilis' magic and spares his life. The other spirits return to their graves at daybreak, but Giselle has broken through the feelings of hatred and vengeance that control the Wilis, and is thus released from their powers. She returns to her grave to rest in peace, leaving Albrecht sorrowing and alone.
The role of Giselle is the most famous Romantic ballet role and was created and first performed by the great Italian ballerina, Carlotta Grisi in June 1841. The character is a sweet, innocent, beautiful young peasant girl with a great love for dancing, but is forbidden to dance by her mother in fear of Giselle's health for the girl has a weak heart. Giselle finds herself caught up in a love rectangle, which takes a tragic turn after she discovers that her lover 'Loys' is really Duke Albrecht in disguise and is engaged to another woman. Devastated, she goes mad and dies of a broken heart. But even after her death, Giselle's love is undiminished. Summoned from her grave to join the Wilis, Giselle refuses to take revenge on Albrecht and instead, protects him, defending him until dawn and saving his life. Giselle's love has transcended death.
Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis
Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis (sometimes spelled Myrta) was first performed by ballerina Adèle Dumilâtre. The character of Myrtha is somewhat enigmatic, but what the libretto of the ballet seems to tell us is that she, as the queen of the vengeful, ghost-like wilis (pronounced villees), holds ultimate power over the ghostly sisterhood. The Wilis do her bidding in the Bavarian forest each night between twilight and dawn, seeking only male prey whom they force, with the help of seemingly magical mistletoe twigs, to dance until their hearts give out—or at least until they are so weak that a few Wilis can throw them into a lake if there is one conveniently located nearby.
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (June 2011)|
The ballet was first presented at the Paris Opéra's Salle Le Peletier on 28 June 1841 with Carlotta Grisi as Giselle, Lucien Petipa as Albrecht, and Jean Coralli as Hilarion. Scenery was designed by Pierre Ciceri and costumes by Paul Lormier. On 12 March 1842, the ballet was first presented in England at Her Majesty's Theatre, London with Carlotta Grisi and Jules Perrot in the principal roles and Louise Fleury as Myrtha, and, on 30 December of the same year, the ballet was first presented in St. Petersburg at the Bolshoi Theatre with Elena Andreyanova as Giselle. In Italy, it was first presented in Milan at Teatro alla Scala on 17 January 1843 with choreography by A. Cortesi and music by N. Bajetti. In the United States, the ballet premiered at the Howard Atheneum, Boston on January 1, 1846 with Mary Ann Lee and George Washington Smith in the principal roles.
The version passed down to the present day was staged by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet (today the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet). Petipa staged his definitive revival of Giselle in 1884 for the Ballerina Maria Gorshenkova, but made his final touches to the work for Anna Pavlova's debut in 1903. It is said that the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet still dance the ballet in Petipa's original design nearly unchanged. Petipa's final work on Giselle was notated in the Stepanov method of choreographic notation around the turn of the 20th century, and is today held as part of the famous Sergeyev Collection in the Harvard University Library Theatre Collection.
Giselle passed out of the repertory of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1867, and did not return to the western stage until Petipa's definitive version was performed by the Ballets Russes in 1910 at the Palais Garnier.
The role of Giselle is one of the most sought-after in ballet, as it demands both technical perfection and outstanding grace and lyricism, as well as great dramatic skill. In the first act Giselle has to convey the innocence and love of a country girl, the heartbreak of being betrayed. In the second act Giselle must seem otherworldly, yet loving. Some of the most accomplished dancers to perform this role include Carlotta Grisi (for whom Théophile Gautier created the role), Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spessivtseva, Galina Ulanova, Alicia Markova, Eva Evdokimova, as well as Alicia Alonso, Chan Hon Goh, Beryl Goldwyn, Karen Kain, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Sylvie Guillem, Gelsey Kirkland, Irina Kolpakova, Ekaterina Maximova, Natalia Bessmertnova, Carla Fracci, Margaret Barbieri, Altynai Asylmuratova, Alessandra Ferri, Viviana Durante, Diana Vishneva, Svetlana Zakharova, Alina Cojocaru, Nina Ananiashvili, Natalia Osipova, Maria Kochetkova, Galina Mezentseva and Polina Semionova. Famous Albrechts include Lucien Petipa (first dancer of the role), Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Robert Helpmann, Erik Bruhn, Mikhail Lavrovsky, Vladimir Vasiliev, Sir Anton Dolin, Vladimir Malakhov, Vladimir Muravlev and Roberto Bolle.
Résumé of scenes and dances
- no.1 Introduction
- no.2 Scène première
- no.3 Entrée d'Albrecht
- no.4 Entrée de Giselle
- no.5 Scène dansante
- interpolation - Pas de deux pour Mlle. Maria Gorshenkova (Ludwig Minkus; 1884; this piece was only included in Imperial-era productions)
- no.6 Scène de Hilarion
- no.7 Retour de la vendange
- interpolation - Pas de cinq pour Mlle. Carlotta Grisi (Cesare Pugni; 1850; only included for Grisi's performance)
- no.8 Valse
- no.9 Scène dansante
- no.10 Le récit de Berthe
- no.11 Scène: Le chasse royale
- no.12 Scène de Hilarion
- no.13 Marche des vignerons
- interpolation - Variation pour Mlle. Elena Cornalba (aka Pas seul) (likely composed by Riccardo Drigo, c. 1888)
- interpolation - Pas de deux pour Mlle. Nathalie Fitzjames (aka Peasant pas de deux)
- Fashioned from Souvenirs de Ratisbonne by Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller, c.1841 –
- a. Entrée
- b. Andante
- c. Variation
- d. Variation
- interpolation - supplemental female variation (Mariinsky Theatre staging) (Riccardo Drigo?; from the ballet Cupid's Prank; 1890.)
- e. Variation
- f. Coda
- no.14 Galop générale
- no.15 Grand scène dramatique: La folie de Giselle
- no.16 Introduction et scène
- no.17 Entrée et danse de Myrthe
- no.18 Entrée des Wilis
- no.19 Grand pas des Wilis
- no.20 Entrée de Giselle
- no.21 Entrée d'Albrecht
- no.22 L'apparition de Giselle
- no.23 La mort de Hilarion
- no.24 Scène des Wilis
- no.25 Grand pas d'action —
- a. Grand adage
- b. Variation de Giselle
- c. Variation d'Albert
- interpolation - Variation pour Mlle. Adèle Grantzow (likely composed by Cesare Pugni; 1867)
- d. Coda
- no.26 Scène finale
- 1968, Carla Fracci & Erik Bruhn, American Ballet Theatre
- 1977, Natalia Makarova & Mikhail Baryshnikov, American Ballet Theatre
- 1979, Lynn Seymour & Rudolf Nureyev, Bavarian State Ballet
- 1980, Carla Fracci & Rudolf Nureyev, Rome Opera Ballet
- 1982, Galina Mezentseva & Konstantin Zaklinsky, Mariinsky Ballet
- 1990, Natalia Bessmertnova & Yuri Vasyuchenko, Bolshoi Ballet
- 1996, Alessandra Ferri & Massimo Murru, La Scala Theatre Ballet
- 1997, Nina Ananiashvili & Sergei Filin, Bolshoi Ballet
- 2004, Diana Vishneva & Vladimir Malakhov, Tokyo Ballet
- 2006, Alina Cojocaru & Johan Kobborg, The Royal Ballet
- 2006, Laëtitia Pujol & Nicolas Le Riche, Paris Opera Ballet
- 2008, Svetlana Zakharova & Roberto Bolle, La Scala Theatre Ballet
- 2008, Polina Semionova & Vladimir Shklyarov, Mariinsky Ballet
- 2009, Anna Tsygankova & Jozef Varga, Dutch National Ballet
- 2011, Svetlana Lunkina & Dmitry Gudanov, Bolshoi Ballet
- Kirstein, Lincoln. Four Centuries of Ballet: Fifty Masterworks. Dover Publications, Inc. 1984. ISBN 0-486-24631-0
- Review "Her Majesty's Treatre" (sic) in The Times, Monday, 14 March 1842, page 3 column B.
- Balachine 1975, p. 193
- Creole Giselle, TV film. Starring Bill Cosby, Virginia Johnson, and others, 1986.
- Creole Giselle, Dance Theatre Of Harlem, 2005.
- The Earliest Russian Giselles - discusses the first interpreters of the role of Giselle in imperial Russia
- Some dance history of Giselle by Suzanne McCarthy for the Royal Ballet
- Giselle Rudolf Nureyev dancing Albrecht in Giselle
- Alternative Giselle movie
- Giselle: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Short video of excerpts from the Act II pas de deux of Giselle
- Short videos excerpts from a performance of the ballet "Giselle"