Bordeaux, 2011 (Audio)
Director: Ermano Florio
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Giselle is a ballet in two acts with a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, music by Adolphe Adam, and choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.
The librettist took his inspiration from a poem by Heinrich Heine.
The ballet tells the story of a peasant girl named Giselle whose ghost, after her premature death, protects her lover from the vengeance of a group of evil female spirits called Wilis (a type of Slavic fairy also spelled Vila, Wila, Wiła, Veela).
Giselle was first presented by the Ballet du Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris, France, on 28 June 1841. The choreography in modern productions generally derives from the revivals of Marius Petipa for the Imperial Russian Ballet (1884, 1899, 1903).
The pervasive atmosphere of the ballet was indebted to the works of Victor Hugo, Heinrich Heine, and the ballet critic Théophile Gautier. The librettist Verney de Saint-Georges had first been attracted to Hugo’s Orientales with its evocation of a ballroom where dancers were condemned to dance all night, and to Heine’s De l’Allemagne and its depiction of the Wilis, Slavonic supernatural beings who lured young men to death by dancing. The notion may have been based on St. Vitus’s dance, the dancing mania of the Middle Ages.
The ballet was first presented at the Paris Opéra’s Salle Le Peletier on 28 June 1841 with Carlotta Grisi as Giselle, Lucien Petipa as Albrecht, and Jean Coralli as Hilarion. Scenery was designed by Pierre Ciceri and costumes by Paul Lormier. On 12 March 1842, the ballet was first presented in England at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London with Carlotta Grisi and Jules Perrot in the principal roles and Louise Fleury as Myrtha, and, on 30 December of the same year, the ballet was first presented in St. Petersburg at the Bolshoi Theatre with Elena Andreyanova as Giselle.
In Italy, it was first presented in Milan at Teatro alla Scala on 17 January 1843 with choreography by A. Cortesi and music by N. Bajetti. In the United States, the ballet premiered at the Howard Atheneum, Boston on January 1, 1846 with Mary Ann Lee and George Washington Smith in the principal roles.
The version passed down to the present day was staged by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet (today the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet). Petipa staged his definitive revival of Giselle in 1884 for the Ballerina Maria Gorshenkova, but made his final touches to the work for Anna Pavlova’s debut in 1903. It is said that the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet still dance the ballet in Petipa’s original design nearly unchanged. Petipa’s final work on Giselle was notated in the Stepanov method of choreographic notation around the turn of the 20th century, and is today held as part of the famous Sergeyev Collection in the Harvard University Library Theatre Collection.
Giselle passed out of the repertory of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1867, and did not return to the western stage until Petipa’s definitive version was performed by the Ballets Russes in 1910 at the Palais Garnier.
The role of Giselle is one of the most sought-after in ballet, as it demands both technical perfection and outstanding grace and lyricism, as well as great dramatic skill. In the first act Giselle has to convey the innocence and love of a country girl, the heartbreak of being betrayed. In the second act Giselle must seem otherworldly, yet loving. Some of the most accomplished dancers to perform this role include Carlotta Grisi (for whom Théophile Gautier created the role), Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spessivtseva, Galina Ulanova, Alicia Markova, Eva Evdokimova, as well as Alicia Alonso, Chan Hon Goh, Beryl Goldwyn, Karen Kain, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Sylvie Guillem, Gelsey Kirkland, Irina Kolpakova, Ekaterina Maximova, Natalia Bessmertnova, Carla Fracci, Margaret Barbieri, Altynai Asylmuratova, Alessandra Ferri, Viviana Durante, Diana Vishneva, Svetlana Zakharova, Alina Cojocaru, Nina Ananiashvili, Natalia Osipova, Maria Kochetkova, Galina Mezentseva and Polina Semionova. Famous Albrechts include Lucien Petipa (first dancer of the role), Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Robert Helpmann, Erik Bruhn, Mikhail Lavrovsky, Vladimir Vasiliev, Sir Anton Dolin, Vladimir Malakhov, Vladimir Muravlev and Roberto Bolle.