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Intro to Classical Story Ballets: Coppélia

The sixteen-year-old Gisppina Bozzachi as Swanhilda in the 1870 production of the ballet.
Photo taken by an unknown photographer at the Théâtre Impérial de l´Opéra. Image scanned from the book Ballet of the Second Empire by Ivor Forbes Guest. Wesleyan University Press. January 1974 (as credited on

For many casual ballet fans, The Nutcracker is by far the most familiar piece, since many companies and schools put it on around the holidays each year. Other classic full-lengths like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty are also mounted fairly often. But, there are still more ballets in the classic canon that, while popular, aren't presented as often. The comic ballet Coppélia is one of these. First choreographed in 1870, the piece is enjoying a bit of a revival, with major companies like New York City Ballet and Boston Ballet staging it last season or this season. Unlike tragedies like Swan Lake or the sweeping romance of Sleeping Beauty, the plot of Coppélia is relatively slight. In a small European village, Franz and Swanhilda (the belle of the town) are engaged. But, Franz becomes enamored of a mysterious girl in the window of the local dollmaker's house. Upset at Franz's wandering attentions, Swanhilda decides to sneak into Dr. Coppelius (the dollmaker)'s house to confront the girl at the window. Franz is also try to find the girl ( the titular Coppélia). When Swanhilda and her friends enter the house, they find out the Coppélia isn't a real girl but a lifelike doll. Swanhilda takes the doll's clothes and pretends to be her. Meanwhile Dr. Coppelius invites Franz in, so that he can take his spirit and transfer it into the doll (not a very comic part to a supposedly comic ballet, admittedly). He offers Franz drugged wine and Franz falls asleep. Meanwhile, seeing Swanhilda in the doll's clothes, he thinks his creation has come to life. Swanhilda awakens Franz and they escape. Dr Coppelius then finds the doll, lifeless, behind a curtain. In the last act, Swanhilda and Franz marry, accompanied by a celebration from the whole village.

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