Coppelia -Swanilda -Giuseppina Bozzachi -Act I-Scene 2 -Paris -1870 -2.JPG
Giuseppina Bozzacchi as Swanhilde in the Saint-Léon/Delibes Coppélia. Paris, 1870
Choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon
Composed by Léo Delibes
Based on Der Sandmann by E. T. A. Hoffmann
Date of premiere 25 May 1870
Place of premiere Théâtre Impérial l'Opéra, Paris
Characters Doctor Coppélius
Genre Romantic
Type comic ballet

Coppélia is a comic ballet originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon to the music of Léo Delibes, with libretto by Charles Nuitter. Nuitter's libretto and mise-en-scène was based upon two stories by ETA Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman), and Die Puppe (The Doll). Coppélia premiered on 25 May 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial l'Opéra, with the 16-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi in the principal role of Swanhilde. Its first flush of success was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris – which also led to the early death of Giuseppina Bozzacchi, on her 17th birthday – but eventually it became the most-performed ballet at the Opéra.

Modern-day productions are traditionally derived from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg in the late 19th century. Petipa's choreography was documented in the Stepanov method of choreographic notation at the turn of the 20th century. These notations were later used to stage the St. Peterburg version for such companies as the Vic-Wells Ballet (precursor of today's Royal Ballet),



Coppélia concerns an inventor, Dr Coppelius, who has made a life-size dancing doll. It is so lifelike that Franz, a village swain, becomes infatuated with it and sets aside his true heart's desire, Swanhilde. She shows him his folly by dressing as the doll, pretending to make it come to life and ultimately saving him from an untimely end at the hands of the inventor.

Act I

The story begins during a town festival to celebrate the arrival of a new bell. The town crier announces that, when it arrives, anyone who becomes married will be awarded a special gift of money. Swanhilde and Franz plan to marry during the festival. However, Swanhilde becomes unhappy with Franz because he seems to be paying more attention to a girl named Coppélia, who sits on the balcony of a nearby house. The house belongs to a mysterious and faintly diabolical inventor, Doctor Coppélius. Although Coppélia spends all of her time sitting motionless and reading, Franz is mesmerized by her beauty and is determined to attract her attention. Still upset with Franz, Swanhilde shakes an ear of wheat to her head: if it rattles, then she will know that Franz loves her. Upon doing this however, she hears nothing. When she shakes it by Franz's head, he also hears nothing; but then he tells her that it rattles. However, she does not believe him and runs away heartbroken.

Later on, Dr. Coppelius leaves his house and is heckled by a group of boys. After shooing them away, he continues on without realising that he dropped his keys in the melée. Swanhilde finds the keys, which gives her the idea of learning more about Coppélia. She and her girlfriends decide to enter Dr. Coppelius’s house. Meanwhile, Franz develops his own plan to meet Coppélia, climbing a ladder to her balcony.

Act II

Swanhilde and her friends find themselves in a large room filled with people. However, the occupants aren't moving. The girls discover that, rather than people, these are life-size mechanical dolls. They quickly wind them up and watch them move. Swanhilde also finds Coppélia behind a curtain and discovers that she, too, is a doll.

Dr. Coppelius returns home to find the girls. He becomes angry with them, not only for trespassing but for also disturbing his workroom. He kicks them out and begins cleaning up the mess. However, upon noticing Franz at the window, Coppélius invites him in. The inventor wants to bring Coppelia to life but, to do that, he needs a human sacrifice. With a magic spell, he will take Franz’s spirit and transfer it to Coppélia. After Dr. Coppelius proffers him some wine laced with sleeping powder, Franz begins to fall asleep. The inventor then readies his magic spell.

However, Dr. Coppelius did not expel all the girls: Swanhilde is still there, hidden behind a curtain. She dresses up in Coppelia’s clothes and pretends that the doll has come to life. She wakes Franz and then winds up all the mechanical dolls to aid their escape. Dr. Coppelius becomes confused and then saddened when he finds a lifeless Coppélia behind the curtain.


Swanhilde and Franz are about to make their wedding vows when the angry Dr. Coppelius appears, claiming damages. Dismayed at having caused such an upset, Swanhilde offers Dr. Coppelius her dowry in return for his forgiveness. However, Swanhilde's father tells Swanhilde to keep her dowry and offers to pay Dr. Coppelius instead. At that point, the mayor intervenes and gives Dr. Coppelius a bag of money, which placates him. Swanhilde and Franz are married and the entire town celebrates by dancing.

Influence and background

Doctor Coppélius is not unlike Hoffmann's sinister Herr Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker or the macabre Svengali-like travelling magician of the same name in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann

The part of Frantz was danced en travesti by Eugénie Fiocre, a convention that pleased the male members of the Jockey-Club de Paris and was retained in Paris until after World War II.[1]

The festive wedding-day divertissements in the village square that occupy Act III are often deleted in modern danced versions.

Some influence on this story comes from travelling shows of the late 18th and early 19th centuries starring mechanical automatons. This field of entertainment has been under-documented, but a recent survey of the field is contained in The Mechanical Turk by Tom Standage (2002). These shows were later to also influence Charles Babbage in his invention of the difference engine.[citation needed]

Alternative versions

A variation of the Coppélia story is contained in Jacques Offenbach's opera, The Tales of Hoffmann, a fictional work about the same Hoffmann who wrote the story that inspired Coppélia. The opera consists of a prologue, three fantastic tales in which Hoffmann is a participant, and an epilogue. In the first story, based on Der Sandmann, Hoffmann falls in love with a mechanical doll, Olympia, but in this case, the story takes on a melancholy tinge as the doll breaks apart.


In 1974 George Balanchine choreographed a version of Coppélia for the New York City Ballet. He was assisted by Alexandra Danilova, who had performed the title role many times during her dancing career.[2] She staged the Petipa choreography for Act II. Balanchine created new choreography for Act III and for the mazurka, czardas and Frantz's variation in Act I. Patricia McBride danced the role of Swanilda; Helgi Tomasson danced the role of Frantz; Shaun O'Brian portrayed Dr. Coppélius.


Act I

1 Prélude et Mazurka
2 Valse Lente
3 Scène
4 Mazurka
5 Scène
6 Ballade de l’Épi
7 Thème Slave Varié
8 Czárdás
9 Finale

Act II

10 Entr’acte et Valse
11 Scène
12 Scène
13 Musique des Automates
14 Scène
15 Chanson à Boire et Scène
16 Scene et Valse de la Poupée
17 Scène
18 Boléro
19 Gigue
20 Scène
21 Marche de la Cloche


22 Introduction
23 Valse des Heures
24 L’Aurore
25 La Prière
26 Le Travail (La Fileuse)
27 L’Hymen (Noce Villageoise)
28 Le Discorde et la Guerre
29 La Paix
30 Danse de Fête
31 Galop Final


2 flutes
(2nd doubling on piccolo)
2 oboes
(2nd doubling on English horn)
2 clarinets
2 bassoons
4 horns
2 valved cornets
2 trumpets
3 trombones
Percussion (2 players)
bass drum with cymbals

Popular culture

Coppélia was featured in the Danish film Ballerina, shown in two parts in the U.S. on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1966 and later released theatrically in Europe. Dancer Kirsten Simone played the lead. A version is included in the revue Wake Up and Dream.

A movie, The Fantastic World of Dr. Coppelius / El fantástico mundo del doctor Coppelius, was released on 25 December 1968. In the U.S., it was titled Dr. Coppelius. The Spanish production, with the ballet company and orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceo of Barcelona, features Walter Slezak as Dr. Coppelius and Claudia Corday in the doll-comes-to-life role, Swanhilda / Coppelia.[3][4]

A scene from the famous ballet film The Red Shoes shows Moira Shearer playing the fictional Victoria Page. Vicky is seen as Swanhilda in the scene in which she pretends to be Coppelia, and fools even Dr. Coppelius.

The ballet Coppélia and Giuseppina Bozzacchi's tragic fate are narrated in the novel No Telling (London: Vintage, 2004) by British author Adam Thorpe (*1956). The novel's protagonist, thirteen year-old Gilles, desperately wants to see the ballet because his crush Jocelyne plays a minor part. He researches into the topic in order to impress Jocelyne, who, sadly, turns out to be fed up with ballet in general and Coppélia in particular.

A stage adaptation of Coppélia was presented at the Gene Frankel Theater in 1999.

See also


  1. ^ Garafola, Lynn, "The Travesty Dancer in Nineteenth-Century Ballet" in Dance Research Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 35-40. (Also reprinted in Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright (eds) Moving History / Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader, Wesleyan University Press, 2001, pp. 210-216. ISBN 081956413)
  2. ^ Macaulay, Alastair (30 May 2012). "Recreating Lost Instants in a Reconstructed Ballet" (in English). New York Times (New York, United States). Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  3. ^
  4. ^ New York Times Review

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