About this Recording
8.550080 - DELIBES: Best of French Ballet

The Best of French Ballet

Leo Delibes (1836 - 1891)
Ballet Suite from Coppélia
Ballet Suite from Sylvia
Ballet Suite from La Source
Le Roi s'amuse: Airs de danse dans le style ancien

France has a long tradition of ballet, whether as a separate entertainment or as an indispensable part of French Opéra. An element of French dance became part of the late Baroque musical synthesis of Bach and Handel, and, in a later generation, provided the technical basis for the Russian ballet. The Paris Académie royale de danse was established in 1661 and the associated school, which still continues, in 1713. The art of ballet in France reached a new height in the middle of the 19th century, coinciding with1he early career of Léo Delibes, who entered the Conservatoire in 1848 and five years later took a position secured for him by Adolphe Adam, composer of Giselle, as 8.ccompanist at the Théatre Lyrique. Like many other composers he was employed also as an organist, from 1862 until 1871 at Saint- Jean-Saint-François, but his primary interest lay in music for the Théatre. For the Théatre Lyrique he wrote comic Opéras and for the Folies Nouvelles and other companies operettas, while continuing to compose music for the church.

Appointment as accompanist at the Opéra in 1863 brought Delibes other opportunities. He was allowed to associate with Minkus in the composition of the ballet La Source in 1866, a task in which he was so successful that a commission followed for a divertissement, Le pas des fleurs, to be added to Adolphe Adam's Le Corsaire. Delibes won his greatest popular success with the score for Coppélia, commissioned for 1870 and his first complete ballet score. This was followed six years later by Sylvia and in 1883 by the important Opéra Lakmé. His last Opéra was Kassya, orchestrated by Massenet and staged two years after the composer's death in 1891.

The ballet Coppélia was based on a story by the German romantic writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann, Der Sandmann, a tale that also served Offenbach in the first act of Les Contes de Hoffmann. In the original version Nathanael is subject to brooding melancholy, intensely aware of a sense of evil. As a child he had been terrified of the Sandman, who brings sleep to children and whom he had identified with a late-night visitor to his father's house, the lawyer Coppelius. He finds out that his father and Coppelius conduct chemical experiments, in the course of one of which his father is killed. In later life he is troubled by the barometer-seller Coppola, whom he identifies with Coppelius. From him he buys a telescope and sees the daughter of Professor Spalanzini, the beautiful Olimpia, whom he later discovers to be a clockwork puppet. Nathanael has been in love with Clara, to whom he now returns, but in madness tries to kill her, while the voice of Coppelius lures him to his own death.

The form of the story used by Charles Nuitter and Arthur Saint-Leon, the former the archivist at the Opéra and the latter a distinguished choreographer, with an interest in national dances admirably shown in Coppélia, is more frivolous. The hero Franz is no haunted figure, while Coppelius seems a relatively harmless character, in spite of his strange delusion. Nevertheless dancers such as Karsavina have succeeded in investing Coppélia with something of the tragedy of Hoffmann's original.

Coppélia was first produced at the Paris Opéra on 25th May 1870, an ominous year. The sixteen-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi as Swanilda danced her first important role that took her from the corps de ballet to the position of prima ballerina at a remarkably early age and Eugenie Fiocre, premiere danseuse of the Opéra, who specialised in travesty roles, took the part of Franz, establishing an initial travesty tradition for the part. François Dauty took the character part of Dr. Coppelius. The ballet enjoyed immediate success and continued in the Paris repertoire. Bozzacchi danced the first eighteen performances, but the Opéra closed at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War and two months later she was dead of a fever contracted during the German siege of the city.

Coppélia combines two stories, the love of Franz and Swanilda and the ambitions of the old puppet-maker Dr. Coppelius, whose desire is to make a living doll. Franz falls in love with the puppet, but through the mischievous trickery of Swanilda, who impersonates a puppet in the workshop of Dr. Coppelius, he is brought to his senses.

The Slav Theme and Variations are taken from the first act of the ballet, principally concerned with the love of Franz and Swanilda. The dance of the automata is in the second act, in the workshop of Dr. Coppelius and other dances in the suite are taken from the divertissements of the third act.

Sylvia was first produced at the Paris Opéra on 14th June 1876, with choreography by Louis Merante, who had created a leading role in La Source. The story was drawn from Tasso's pastoral drama Aminta. In the history of Russian ballet Sylvia occupies an ambiguous position, since its production at the Maryinsky Théatre in St. Petersburg in 1901 was the cause of Dyagilev's resignation, when he was required to submit to formal supervision of his work by older members of the cultural establishment. Dyagilev had already set to work on an ambitious production, in which Bakst and Benois were involved, but opposition to his undertaking, on the grounds of his youth, led to a breach with Prince Volkonsky, Director of the Imperial Théatres. The ultimate consequences for the history of ballet were far-reaching.

The shepherd Amyntas loves Sylvia, a nymph of Diana and therefore vowed to chastity. He is rejected by her, as is the Black Hunter, Orion. Eros intervenes on behalf of Amyntas and Diana is induced to forgive her disloyal votary Sylvia and to bless the wedding of the lovers.

The composition of La Source was shared between the Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus, who was for many years associated with the ballet companies in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and Delibes, who wrote the second and third of the four scenes. The ballet was first produced at the Opéra on 12th November 1866, its libretto and choreography by Nuitter and Saint-Léon. The action takes place in Persia, where Naïla, the spirit of the spring of the title, is defended by the hunter Djémil from the gypsy Morgab, who wants to poison her waters. Naila rewards Djémil with the hand of his beloved Nouredda, providing a magic flower that serves to protect her. The Pas des écharpes, with its final Circassian Dance offers an element of exoticism that was to recur in the work of Delibes.

The six ancient dances, elegant pastiche relying on well known thematic material, were written for the ball scene in a Comédie-Française production of Victor Hugo's play Le roi s'amuse in 1882, fifty years after its first appearance. The play originally deals with the fickle amours of Francois 1er and, with suitable modifications insisted on by the censors, formed the basis of Verdi's Opéra Rigoletto, safely transposed to the duchy of Mantua.

Kassya was the last Opéra of Delibes, based on the story Frinko Balaban by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a writer better known for Krafft-Ebing's use of his name. The Opéra, completed by Massenet, who added recitatives and orchestrated the work after the composer's death, has a Galician setting, and elements of exoticism, exemplified in the Ukrainian trepak.

Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's first conductor was Frantisek Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors.

The orchestra has made many recordings for NAXOS ranging from the ballet music of Tchaikovsky to more modern works by composers such as Copland, Brit ten & Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Rubinstein and other post-romantic composers.

Ondrej Lenárd
Ondrej Lenárd was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava, where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opéra, where he has continued to direct performances.

Lenárd's work with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music Director of the Slovak National Opéra recorded for Opus Opéras by Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.

For Naxos Lenárd has recorded symphonies and ballet music by Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov. For Marco Polo he has recorded Havergal Brian's colossal Gothic symphony to great critical acclaim in the international music press.

Close the window