Les millions d'Arlequin
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|Les Millions d'Arlequin, or Harlequinade|
Frontispiece of the original piano reduction of Drigo's score as issued by the publisher Zimmerman, 1900.
|Premiere||23 February [O.S. 10 February] 1900 (Hermitage)
26 February [O.S. 13 February] 1900 (Imperial Mariinsky Theatre)
St. Petersburg, Russia
Les Millions d'Arlequinade (en. Harlequin's Millions) (ru. «Миллионы Арлекина». Milliony Arlekina) or Harlequinade (ru. «Арлекинада») is a Ballet comique in two acts with libretto and choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Riccardo Drigo. First presented at the Imperial Theatre of the Hermitage by the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia on 23 February [O.S. 10 February] 1900. The ballet was given a second premiere with the same cast at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre on 26 February [O.S. 13 February] 1900.
The ballet was popular in Russia in the early 20th century and became a well-known vehicle for the dancers of the old Imperial stage. Drigo's score was extremely popular and sold well on the sheet-music market. The score spawned the popular repertory piece known as the Sérénade that the composer later adapted into the song Notturno d'amour for Beniamino Gigli in 1922.
In 1899 the former director of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres Ivan Vsevolozhsky took up the directorship of the Hermitage museum, a post that also called for supervision over performances of the museum's theatre. Vsevolozhsky commissioned Marius Petipa—the renowned Premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres—to begin work on three short ballets to be given at the Hermitage for the 1900-1901 season. Petipa immediately began crafting scenarios for these ballets, drawing on a variety of differing subjects. The subject of the first ballet, titled Les Ruses d'amour (The Pranks of Love), was inspired by French rococo. The second libretto was crafted for a ballet titled Les Saisons (The Seasons), being a plot-less ballet divertissement that represented the four seasons through Petipa's classical formula of danced tableaux. The third ballet was Les Millions d'Arlequin (Harlequin's Millions), with a libretto based on episodes featuring the stock characters from the Italian commedia dell’arte. Petipa's original intentions were to commission the score for Les Millions d'Arlequin from Riccardo Drigo's close friend and colleague Alexander Glazunov, while Drigo was to compose the score for Les Saisons. Soon both composers developed an affinity for their colleague's assigned ballet, with Glazunov adamantly expressing that the subject of Les Millions d'Arlequin was perfect in every respect for the Italian composer's talents. In the end Glazunov composed the scores for not only Les Saisons but also for Les Ruses d'amour, and Drigo was assigned the score for Les Millions d'Arlequin.
While working on the score for Les Millions d'Arlequin, Drigo took daily walks through the St. Petersburg Summer Garden and along the banks of the Neva River, all the while thinking of the music of his native Italy. During one such daily walk, Drigo composed the ballet's famous Serenade, which he set to the accompaniment of a solo mandolin, and the Berceuse de Columbine, which was written especially for the harpist Albert Zabel.
Marius Petipa not only staged some of his most memorable choreography for the principal ballerina roles of Columbine and Pierrette, he also composed intricate virtuoso choreography for the role of Harlequin, first performed by György Kyaksht. The character Harlequin would go on to become one of the most coveted parts for the male dancer in Imperial Russia, with several of the Imperial Ballet's principal male dancers distinguishing themselves in it.
Les Millions d'Arlequin was first presented at the Hermitage on 23 February [O.S. 10 February] 1900 with a cast that included Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Columbine, György Kyaksht as Harlequin, Olga Preobrajenskaya as Pierrette, Sergei Lukianov as Pierrot, Enrico Cecchetti as Cassandre, Nikolai Aistov as Léandre, and Anna Urakhova as the Good Fairy.
The first performance was given for a private audience that included both the Emperor Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra, the Dowager Empress Maria and the whole of the Imperial Russian court. Private royal theatrical performances of that time were extremely formal affairs where rigid etiquette and protocol were followed, and as such applause or cheering were not permitted at performances. Nevertheless within moments of the final curtain the typically subdued royal audience erupted into thunderous applause. Much to the surprise of everyone present, Riccardo Drigo received a tumultuous ovation as he took his bows before the curtain and was soon mobbed by several Grand Dukes who tripped over one another in their enthusiasm to congratulate him for his music. The Empress Alexandra was also delighted with the ballet, and commanded two additional court performances on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre, with the first performance being given on 26 February [O.S. 13 February] 1900.
Les Millions d'Arlequin was performed consistently throughout the early 20th century, having its final performance at the former Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in 1927. The principal female role of Columbine served as a useful vehicle for the great ballerinas of the old Imperial stage, among them, Anna Pavlova, Olga Preobrajenskaya and Julia Sedova. The ballet was also a favorite of the male dancers of this period for its challenging virtuoso choreography for the role of Harlequin.
The ballet master Fyodor Lopukhov later re-staged the ballet as Harlequinade in a one-act version for the Ballet of the Maly Theatre of Leningrad. The production premiered on 13 June 1933. Audiences outside of Russia are perhaps most familiar with George Balanchine's revival, which the Ballet Master staged as Harlequinade for the New York City Ballet. This production that premiered at the New York State Theater in New York City on 4 February 1965.
In honor of the ballet's 65th anniversary, George Balanchine staged an important revival of the work for the New York City Ballet. The premiere took place on 4 February 1965, with Patricia McBride (Columbine), Edward Vilella (Harlequin), Suki Schorer (Pierrette), and Deni Lamont (Pierrot) in the leading roles.
Publication of the music
When plans were under way to issue the score of Les Millions d'Arlequin by the publisher Zimmermann, many of Drigo's colleagues urged the composer to dedicate his score to the Empress Alexandra. Drigo agreed, and submitted a request for the dedication to the Minister of the Imperial Court. This brought about a lengthy correspondence by a commission set up to investigate whether or not Drigo's character and background were worthy of his offering a dedication to a Russian Empress. In the end the response was favorable and the dedication was graciously accepted.