The romantic ballet Giselle premiered in 1841 at the Paris Opera Theatre. It is based on the legend of the ‘villi’ – young girls who were betrayed by their lovers and did not live till their wedding, dying of a broken heart and later turning into vindictive and merciless female spirits; this grizzly tale was given a poetic flair by Heinrich Heine. The librettists Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Theophile Gautier helped turn the legend into a ballet, with music by Adolphe Adam and choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.
The opening night was a triumph. The ballet became hugely popular among the top theatres across Europe. And ever since then, Giselle has been a constant in the ballet world.
But what is the secret of this unwavering interest? How has this romantic ballet managed to survive for over two hundred years and to pass on into the twenty-first century without ever losing its popularity?
Maybe the answer lies in the depth and ardour of affection that Jules Perrot, the ballet’s choreographer and the main mastermind behind its creation, bore towards his beloved wife and star pupil, Carlotta Grisi, who was the one he staged the ballet for? Maybe that is why Giselle, the fruit of Perrot’s passionate talent and inspiration, conceals a certain magical power that does not fade way with time?
In Saint-Petersburg, the ballet Giselle still retains the choreography of Marius Petipa, who was the first ballet master of the Royal Mariinsky Theatre in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Yacobson Ballet Theatre also follows the same tradition.
Fantasy ballet in two acts
Music by Adolphe Adam
Libretto by Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, Theophile Gautier, and Jean Coralli
Choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa
Original choreography restored by Irina Kolpakova, People's Artist of the USSR
Set and costume design by Vyacheslav Okunev, People's Artist of the Russian Federation