Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Ballet and Opera in the Age of "Giselle"

Ballet and Opera in the Age of "Giselle"

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ballet and Opera in the Age of "Giselle"
    Book Description:

    Marian Smith recaptures a rich period in French musical theater when ballet and opera were intimately connected. Focusing on the age ofGiselleat the Paris Opéra (from the 1830s through the 1840s), Smith offers an unprecedented look at the structural and thematic relationship between the two genres. She argues that a deeper understanding of both ballet and opera--and of nineteenth-century theater-going culture in general--may be gained by examining them within the same framework instead of following the usual practice of telling their histories separately. This handsomely illustrated book ultimately provides a new portrait of the Opéra during a period long celebrated for its box-office successes in both genres.

    Smith begins by showing how gestures were encoded in the musical language that composers used in ballet and in opera. She moves on to a wide range of topics, including the relationship between the gestures of the singers and the movements of the dancers, and the distinction between dance that represents dancing (entertainment staged within the story of the opera) and dance that represents action. Smith maintains that ballet-pantomime and opera continued to rely on each other well into the nineteenth century, even as they thrived independently. The "divorce" between the two arts occurred little by little, and may be traced through unlikely sources: controversies in the press about the changing nature of ballet-pantomime music, shifting ideas about originality, complaints about the ridiculousness of pantomime, and a little-known rehearsal score forGiselle.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3247-7
    Subjects: Music, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xx)
    (pp. xxi-2)
  7. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Music and the Story
    (pp. 3-18)

    Several of the arguments in this book depend on my reading of ballet-pantomime music composed at the Opéra during the July Monarchy. Before setting out, then, I would like to offer a brief general description of this music, since it is for the most part unknown today.

    Most important of all is the fact that for each new ballet-pantomime created at the Paris Opéra during the July Monarchy, a new score was produced. The reason for this is simple: these ballet-pantomimes told stories—elaborate ones—and music was considered an indispensable tool in getting them across to the audience. Therefore,...

  8. CHAPTER TWO A Family Resemblance
    (pp. 19-58)

    In the 1830s and 1840s, the Paris Opéra—situated in the rue le Peletier, not far from where the old Bibliothèque nationale still stands today—was celebrated as one of the continent’s most vibrant public theaters. The most famous singers and dancers in Europe performed on its stage, and the goings-on within its walls commanded the attention of a steady throng of spectators, many of whom took pen in hand to record their experiences or to weave fictional tales using the Opéra as a setting. Delacroix, Berlioz, Musset, George Sand, Mendelssohn, Balzac, and Dumas (among other luminaries) attended performances there,...

  9. CHAPTER THREE The Lighter Tone of Ballet-Pantomime
    (pp. 59-96)

    Gérard de Nerval, the poet, in 1845 suggested that “it would be asking too much to seek philosophy within the superficial canvas of a ballet.”¹ Louis Véron, the entrepreneur, had arrived at a similar conclusion upon assuming the directorship of the Paris Opéra in 1831. As he recalled later in his memoirs:

    I studied the receipts earned by all the old works, and I ascertained that those ballets that had succeeded most wereLes Filets de VulcainandFlore et Zéphyre. The balletsClary, Alfred le Grand, Manon Lescaut,andLa Somnambulenever succeeded financially. On the other hand,La...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Ballet-Pantomime and Silent Language
    (pp. 97-123)

    Ballet-pantomime at the Opéra in the l830s and 1840s depended far more upon words than we have imagined. This may seem a strange notion, given the prominent place allotted the Romantic ballet in the critical literature on the ineffability of dance—and the fame of such declarations as Gautier’s, that “the real, unique and eternal theme for a ballet is the dance itself,” and Mallarmé’s, that “the dancer who expresses herself by dance steps understands no other eloquence, even that of gesture.”¹ Yet, upon closer inspection of the performance materials of these ballet-pantomimes (particularly the scores and libretti), one may...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Hybrid Works at the Opéra
    (pp. 124-166)

    The lingering presence of language in the ballet-pantomime, and the existence of ballet characters who were as capable of using language as opera characters were, enabled the two types of characters to communicate effectively when they actually encountered each other. “Dialogues” between them, it is true, occurred relatively rarely, because in nearly all of the operas of this period, ballet and opera characters mingled together only in crowd scenes and divertissements, affording no opportunities for substantive interaction. But face-to-face conversations did take place in three works: the operaLa Muette de Portici(1828), in which a dancer played the title...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Giselle
    (pp. 167-200)

    Of all the dozens of popular and successful works created during the July Monarchy at the Opéra,Giselle(1841) is the only one to have survived as a regular staple in the current-day repertory. Performed every season by major companies on both sides of the Atlantic and the subject of several popular books, it is also widely available on commercial video, and some of its more famous scenes have even been featured in Hollywood films.¹ Yet one would not guess, by watching most of today’s productions, how much the originalGisellebehaved like opera. Its characters now engage far less...

  13. APPENDIX ONE Ballet-Pantomimes and Operas Produced at the Paris Opéra, 1825–1850
    (pp. 201-212)
  14. APPENDIX TWO The Giselle Libretto
    (pp. 213-238)
  15. APPENDIX THREE Sources for Musical Examples
    (pp. 239-240)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 241-300)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 301-307)