Music- Adolphe Adam
Libretto by Theophile Gautier and Jean-Henry Saint-Georges
Choreography- Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa
Adapted by Valentin Grishchenko
Costumes designer- Yulia Zhuravlyova
Stage designer- Maksim Ushakov
Light designer- Maksim Kuroshou
Ballet in two acts.
Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes (1 intermission)
Premiere: June 28, 1841, Ballet du Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique, Paris, France.
In 1840, famous French composer Adolphe Adam returned from Saint Petersburg to Paris to start his work on a ballet entitled Giselle. Its creators, the French poet Théophile Gautier, librettist Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, and ballet choreographer Jean Coralli, based the plot on a legend about the Wilis, as retold by Heinrich Heine. Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot actively participated in the staging of the ballet. As is well-known, Perrot spend a few years in Italy, where he met his future wife, Carlotta Grisi. In fact, Perrot created the part of Giselle precisely for Grisi.
The ballet debuted at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris, France, on June 28, 1841. The performance was wildly successful and received positive reviews from critics, who called Giselle the greatest ballet of its times. Following the premiere, the opera theater staged nothing but Giselle for a entire month. In 1842, a year after its first run in Paris, Giselle was performed first in Saint Petersburg, then in Moscow. Since then, the ballet has remained a commonplace of the Russian repertoire. Such renowned artists have danced its leading role as to obscure the fame of the first Giselle, Carlotta Grisi. In the 20th century, these dancers were Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spesivtseva, Marina Semyonova, and Galina Ulanova.
Over the course of nearly two centuries, choreographers have not forgotten Giselle. In the Bolshoi Theater alone, the ballet has been staged by Alexander Gorsky, Leonid Lavrovsky, Yury Grigorovich, and Vladimir Vasilyev. In 2019, Russia’s leading theater presented the ballet in the adaptation of Alexei Ratmansky. Original renditions of the ballet have been produced as well: for one, choreographer Mats Ek transplanted the scenes into the modern world. In the second act, the main scene is a psychiatric hospital where the Wilis are psychiatric patients and Myrtha is the head nurse.
A quiet mountain village is surrounded by forests and vineyards. The gentle morning sun shines on a simple peasant house. Young Giselle lives there with her mother. The local gamekeeper, Hans, has long been in love with her. But the girl’s heart is full of bright expectation of a great real feeling. The Duke of Courland’s hunting lodge is nearby. Prince Albert arrived there from a hunt. The prince’s attention is drawn to the charming peasant maid Giselle. Tender feelings overwhelm Albert. He is attracted to a young beauty. But the Prince’s expensive dress can scare her away, and he changes into peasant clothes. Mutual feelings of first love captivate young people.
Hans is desperate. His experience makes him think that Albert is not who he claims to be. But Giselle does not listen to him. The sounds of a hunting horn can be heard from afar. The Duke of Courland is approaching with his retinue and guests. The villagers happily greet their noble guests. Mingling with the crowd of peasants, the Prince remains unnoticed. The arrival of the Duke and Bathilde is a complete surprise to him. Giselle attracts Bathilde’s attention. Giselle is dancing for her. Bathilde gives her a necklace. Overjoyed, Giselle runs away to her friends and joins in the fun. Albert is among the dancers. Suddenly, Hans rudely pushes the merrymakers aside and reveals Albert’s true identity. In the hunting lodge, he found a sword adorned with precious stones. He shows it. Giselle doesn’t want to believe it. Then Hans blows the horn and Bathilde, Prince’s bride, appears in front of the confused Prince. Giselle is shocked. The bright world of her hopes and dreams has been destroyed. She goes mad and dies.
A night. A village cemetery. Hans, exhausted by remorse, comes here. In the moonlight, led by Myrta, ghostly Willis appear – the shadows of brides who died before the wedding. “In their bridal dresses, with wreaths of flowers on their heads(…) irresistibly beautiful, the Willis dance in the moonshine, and they dance the more impetuously and wildly the more they feel that the hour allowed them for dancing is drawing to an end, and they must again descend to the icy cold of the grave” (H. Heine). The Willis spot Hans. At a sign from Myrta, their furious round dance begins to pursue the gamekeeper. As a wall in Hans’s path, vengeful shadows push him into the lake. The ghostly figure of Giselle appears from the cold grave. A wave of Myrta’s hand – and Giselle gains strength. Noise is heard. The Willis disappear into the darkness.
Albert comes to the cemetery with flowers. The Willis immediately surround the young man. The terrible fate of the forester threatens Albert. But the selfless immortal love of Giselle protects Albert from the wrath of the Willis.
Albert and Giselle dance their last dance. Dawn is near, and with it eternal separation. With the first rays of the rising sun, the ghostly Willis disappear. The ghost of Giselle flashes for the last time. Albert returns to reality. His grief is immense. The love for the beautiful Giselle remains forever in his heart.