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Can-Can and Dances from the Opera

Can-Can and Dances from the Opera


[1] Offenbach's light-hearted re-interpretation of the Orpheus legend caused some scandal at the first performance of his Orphee aux Enfers at the Bouffe-Parisiens in 1858, when it seemed that he might be mocking the opera of Gluck on the same subject, The work was mounted with decor by Gustave Dore and expanded in 1874 with additional ballets, In Offenbach's version of the myth, with a libretto by Hector Cremieux and Jacques Francois Halevy, Orpheus is only too glad to be rid of his nagging Eurydice, who goes off with Pluto, god of the Underworld, The intervention of Jupiter allows that master of disguise to descend to the Underworld in the guise of a fly to seek out Eurydice, The famous can-can, the answer to Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits, is performed by the infernal corps de ballet after Jupiter has turned Eurydice into a Bacchante, a metamorphosis that leaves her happily parted from her.



[2] - [5] The most famous of all operatic versions of Goethe'sFaustis the opera by Charles Gounod, first staged at the Paris Theatre-Lyrique in 1859, The plot centres on the love of Faust and Marguerite (Gretchen) and the dances from the opera, a necessary contemporary element of French opera, include, in addition to the kermesse of the second act, the well known fifth act Walpurgisnacht on the Brocken in the Hartz Mountains, where the dances include Les nubiennes, Cleopatra et la coupe d'or, Les troyennes and Danse de Phrynee, part of a revision of 1869 for the Grand Opera.


[6] - [7] Smetana was a leading figure in the creation of Czech opera and his best known work in this form must be The Bartered Bride (Prodanci Nevesta), first staged at the Prague National Theatre in 1866, The bride of the title,

Marenka, is to marry the son of Tobias Micha, apparently the simpleton Vasek, but eventually is able to marry the man she loves, Micha's long lost son Jenik,

The Polka ends the first act, while the Furiant is heard at the inn scene of the second.


[8] Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann, first performed in 1881, the year after the composer's death, at the Paris Opera-Comique, is based on stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann, including the famous Coppelia tale of love for a puppet. The third act is set in Venice, where the love of Nicklausse and the courtesan

Giulietta is celebrated in a Barcarole, the gondolier's song.


[9] As versatile as he was prolific, Camille Saint-Saens scored the most lasting operatic success with his biblical Samson et Dalila, a work that had its first performance in.1877 at the Hoftheater in Weimar. The climax of tile opera is the Bacchanale of the third act, where the Philistines feast and rejoice, mocking the blinded hero, who is about to bring the house down.


[10] Dance has an important and necessary part to play in Russian opera.

Mussorgsky's Sorochintsy Fair, based on Gogol and left unfinished at his death in 1881, included the famous Gopak, intended for the end of the first act, but transferred by Tcherepnin in his completed version of the third, where the heroine Parassia recovers her spirits, as she thinks of her lover Gritzko.


[11] The Dance of the Hours has enjoyed an independent orchestral existence, separated from its dramatic context in Amilcare Ponchielli's opera La Gioconda. The ballet, in four parts, Dawn, Day, Evening and Night, is given for the entertainment of the guests of Alvise Badoero, head of the state inquisition, and precedes the dramatic arrest of La Cieca (The Blind Woman), mother of La Gioconda.


[12] – [13] Tchaikovsky based his opera Eugene Onegin on the work of Pushkin.

It deals with the love of Tatiana and Onegin, with dance at its very heart. In the second act there is a dance at Madame Larina's and it is during the Waltz that Onegin antagonizes Lensky, whom he later kills in a duel, the cause of his own exile. Years later there is a grand ball at the aristocratic residence of Prince Gremin, epitomized in the Polonaise and it is here that Onegin meets Tatiana again, now the wife of Prince Gremin, and parts from her for ever.



[14] Mussorgsky's opera Khovantshchina has a libretto by Stasov, mentor of the five nationalist composers under the influence of Balakirev. The opera deals with the clash between the reformist supporters of Peter the Great and the traditionalists, the Streltsy musketeers and Old Believers, with Prince Khovansky. The Dance of Persian Slaves entertains the Prince in the fourth act.


[15] There is a very different kind of nationalism in Manuel de Falla's opera La vida breve. The story of the opera is one of love and betrayal, as the faithless

Paco deserts his gypsy mistress Salud.


[16] Borodin, like Mussorgsky, died before he had time to complete his principal opera, Prince Igor. There is a strong element of exoticism, particularly in the famous Polovtsian Dances with which Khan Khonchak entertains his prisoners Prince Igor and the latter's son Vladimir.


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