Here’s looking at you

Boston Ballet sees into the heart of Coppélia
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  April 30, 2010

LIVING DOLL: Misa Kuranaga makes Boyko Dossev believe his mechanical creation is now a daughter.

Set in the usual small village — this one in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe — Coppélia might look like just another pleasant 19th-century ballet about a boy, a girl, and another girl. But appearances can be deceiving — and that’s the theme of this work, whose title character is a life-size mechanical doll. At the Opera House last weekend, Boston Ballet music director Jonathan McPhee tore into the mazurka of Léo Delibes’s Prélude, as if to make the audience sit up and pay close attention. What followed — in the 1974 version by George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova — largely rewarded that attention.

Coppélia first saw the light of day in Paris in 1870, with a score by Delibes that would become a model for Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, and choreography by Arthur Saint-Léon. Like the Olimpia segment of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, it’s based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s dark story “The Sandman,” in which the student Nathanael — with the “aid” of a special spyglass — sees a clockwork doll as a real woman and his fiancée as a clockwork doll. Hoffmann is riffing on the fear that we’re all nothing more than clockwork; Coppélia, on the other hand, is that familiar narrative (think James in La Sylphide, or Albrecht in Giselle, or Siegfried in Swan Lake) of a boy who keeps looking past his girl in the hope of glimpsing the Eternal Feminine.

The plot is ballet-simple. Frantz and Swanilda are sweethearts, so she’s not pleased when she catches him blowing kisses to the doll-beautiful Coppélia, who sits all day reading out on the second-floor balcony of her father’s house. Frantz blunders again when he kills a butterfly he and Swanilda are chasing, and though he tries to appease her, he turns back to Coppélia whenever Swanilda’s out of sight. In the second act, Swanilda and her eight friends, having come upon the key that Dr. Coppélius has dropped, sneak into his house and discover that his workshop is full of dolls — including Coppélia. Coppélius returns and chases them all out, only to find Frantz climbing in through the balcony window. Frantz professes the richness of his love, but when he acknowledges that he’s poor in worldly goods, his prospective father-in-law switches to Plan B, which involves slipping Frantz a mickey and then trying to transfer his vital forces into Coppélia, who, wheeled out from her alcove, now looks — surprise! — just like Swanilda. (Turns out she stayed behind when her friends left.) Coppélius is delighted as his creation gradually comes to life, though she’s not the dutiful daughter he was hoping for. When Swanilda finally manages to wake Frantz, she rubs his nose — and Coppélius’s — in the reality that Coppélia is and will always be just a doll.

1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
  Topics: Dance , Boston Ballet Orchestra, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Whitney Jensen,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   HANDEL AND HAYDN'S PURCELL  |  February 04, 2013
    Set, rather confusingly, in Mexico and Peru, the 1695 semi-opera The Indian Queen is as contorted in its plot as any real opera.
  •   REVIEW: MAHLER ON THE COUCH  |  November 27, 2012
    Mahler on the Couch , from the father-and-son directing team of Percy and Felix Adlon, offers some creative speculation, with flashbacks detailing the crisis points of the marriage and snatches from the anguished first movement of Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony.
    "Without The Nutcracker , there'd be no ballet in America as we know it."
    War Horse's puppet Joey, all chestnut mesh and cane and repurposed bicycle parts, could become America's biggest equine sensation since Secretariat.
    The man of the hour is running for high office, and he has the support of the party faithful and the moneyed interests, but before he can claim victory, he must ingratiate himself with the unwashed masses, even as rival interests conspire to blacken his name and deprive him of all popular appeal.

 See all articles by: JEFFREY GANTZ