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A report on coppelia.

Coppellia is a classical ballet that was adopted from ETA Hoffmann’s the sandman. Hoffman

was an advocate, a musician and is recognized for being a master novelist during the Romantic

Movement recorded in Germany. The story was an inspiration for the doll act of the Offenbach

opera the tales of Hoffman. It was first produced in 1870 at the Paris opera to a commissioned

score by Léo Délibes. With choreography by Arthur Saint-Leon, it was Délibes' most successful

full-scale ballet and Saint-Léon's most famous. It was produced the year Saint-Léon died at

which time he was Ballet Master at the Paris Opera production. It is interesting to note that there,

the role of Franz has many times been danced in travesti tradition by a female dancer. The ballet

was first choreographed when the romantic era was coming to an end and is considered as a

precursor to the Classical era.

It falls in the same category as Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty as a fairy

tale-like story with a recognizable score. Several pieces of music and variations from the show

are popular for recitals and ballets competition. But then most of these modern competition

portrays a different version from the traditional version but the general story and the characters

remain the same. The decision to do a ballerina followed after the success of la source in 1866

which was done by a collaborative effort by Arthur Saint- Leon and liberalist Charles Nuttier,

Paris Opera director Emile Perin asked them to reprise the partnership and adapt ETS
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Hoffmann’s dark tale of Der sandman and try to focus more on the light hearted moments of the


Coppelia is unique to the other ballets in that it is pure comedy and the main conflict of

the story is misunderstanding even though there are no identifiable villains. Compared to the

likes of sleeping beauty the story is less known but it is very entertaining and family appropriate.

The main characters in the ballet are Svanhilda (sometimes spelled Swanhilda), a young woman;

Franz, her fiancé; Dr. Coppelius, a mysterious toymaker; and Coppelia, a magical doll. The

story takes place in a small German town, and the rest of the cast generally represents people

(and things-more on that later) that reside in the town. The ballet is all about a girl named

coppelia, she sits on her balcony everyday never speaking to anyone. Franz, even though he is

engaged to another person falls in love with her and wants to marry her. His fiancé, Swanhilda,

sees him throwing kisses at coppelia and later learns that she is a doll belonging to doctor

Coppelius, the mad scientist. She then decides she has to impersonate the doll and win her

fiancés love back. There is chaos that arises from this but all is soon forgiven. Franz and

Swanhilda make up and get married with the blessing of the whole community.

In coppelia automatons, marionettes and dolls are introduced to the ballet. The original

ballet choreographed by Arthur saint-Leon had two acts and three scenes. In some versions the

second act is played on a more happier note that is instead of Swanilda dressing up as coppelia to

fool Dr. Coppelius she tells him the truth after being caught up. He then teaches her how to

behave in a mechanical way like a doll in an effort to help her win the heart of her lover

some versions the doll came to life. Interestingly, coppelia, evolved from travelling shows of the

end times in the 18th century and erly 19th century starring mechanical dolls. The dance nearly

never happened because at the time there was an impending Franco - Prussian war and Paris was
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losing its stature, the ballet had only 18 performances before the Prussian invaded France but it

was later exported to other European countries and it was ensured a long life beyond Paris opera

ballet. After the war ended the dance was performed over 500 times making it the most

performed ballets of that theatre. The most interesting thing about this dance is the radical

change of tone from gothic novella to virtuoso phrase for ballerina.

As stated earlier originally the ballet was structured for two acts and three scenes but for

this analysis I will consider a 1990 video by Australian ballet, George Orgiville. George

Orgiville divided the dance into three acts. In act one – Galician town square. There are

celebrations for the new tow bell, coppelia, Dr. Coppelius’s daughter is siting reading ate the

balcony of her house and various people are trying to wave to her in vain. Every couple that gets

married within a certain period of time following the bell’s installation will win a cash prize.

Swanhilda and Franz also notice the girl sitting on the balcony, Franz is intrigued and he feels as

if he is drawn towards the girl. Even though he is in love with and engaged to Swan Hilda, he

thinks he may be falling in love with the mysterious girl. Swanvilda notices his wandering

attention and tries to remind him of how much they love each other and each of the town

residents dance with the couple and despite this effort the obsession of Franz withy this strange

girl is not swayed and this devastates Swanhilda. Swanhilda and Franz quarrel a bit then make

peace and the scene ends with the Swanhilda and her friends getting into Dr. Coppelius’s house.

Act 2- Dr. Coppelius house: after entering the house, they find themselves in a huge

workshop filled with many dolls and the strange girl who was at the balcony is there. They

discover that she too is a doll and her name is coppeila and she is the best creation of the doctor.

Dr. Coppelius gets in the room causing the friends to escape except for Swanhilda who decides

to hide in the closet. Franz arrives from a window, Coppelius sees him and drugs him and plans
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to steal life off from him and give it to one of his dolls. He opens the closet and Swanhilda who

appears disguised as coppelia pretends to be his doll. All she wants is to save her fiancé she

falsifies her transformation into human while dancing a Scottish gigue and Spanish bolero. Franz

wakes up and together with his fiancé they defeat Coppelius. Coppelius then discovers the

disturbing truth about his doll.

Notably in other versions, Franz asks Coppelius for permission to marry coppelia, but

then the doctor knows that Franz was supposed to marry Swanhilda and is reluctant to give his

permission. He puts Franz in a hypnotic state while Swanhilda looks for clothes that look like

Coppelia’s dresses in the outfit and creeps out with the other dolls.

Act 3- the town square, it is the wedding day for Franz and Swanhilda and the town

gathers together to celebrate. A series of dances are presented in allegorical terms, that is “The

Dance of the Hours”, to signal the passing of the night, “The Aurore”, for the arrival of the day.

Then Franz and Swanhilda dance a grand pas de deux to which a final gathering follows. This

version avoids a bit of drama but other versions have a point where Franz is still confused over

whom to choose between his fiancé and the doll and the doctor advises him to choose the person

whom his heart desires to be with most. Different groups of townspeople perform various dances

as they wait for the couple to appear. If the version of the ballet is clock-centric, the corps de

ballet will perform the famous Waltz of the Hours variation, which shows that the couple is

almost out of time.. With some guiding from the crowd, he finally choses Swanhilda over

Coppelia, he believes she will provide him with much more beauty compared to Coppelia. The

residents of the town then dance together and show joy for the new young couple’s happy

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The basis of all the versions of coppelia, from Hoffmann’s tale to saint Leon’s ballet to

the modern ballets are permeated by the myth of Pygmalion who fell in love with a female figure

he had sculptured and found true love when she was transformed into human. This story was

crafted at a time when there was a rising anxiety about technology and coppelia helped change

the perceptions that were there about technology. Hoffman’s story sandman and Mary Shelley’s

Frankenstein are somehow related as the two both portrays their protagonist struggle between

madness and death to cope with his creation.

One reason for the popularity of Coppelia is the humor in it which makes it unique to the

other ballerinas. the living dolls also might interest many people, the original play was at a time

when technological advancement had just began and people were thinking of making artificial

human beings. The Australian ballet also brings out a little romance and well who doesn’t love a

pair of lively battling lovers who melt into a final ecstatic embrace? These are the features that

makes this narrative to never get old in the eyes of the audience.

Currently, there are many renditions of Coppellia, all the choregraphers have tried

their best to bring out a more entertaining and fun versions of the act improving it from the first

versions. The purpose of coppelia was to replace the horror filled sandman with a more

humorous version. The doll is the source of the comic tone in the play with the members of

public in inclusion of Franz and Swanhilda waving at her in vain. This element of surprise is

what is typical of comedies: when something is expected to happen but ot does not happen,

waving at a person, and the person does not seem interested nor does the person raise her eyes

creates hilarious results especially since this happens at the beginning of the act. At act 2,
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Swanhilda presence to be the doll and her mechanical movement, how she and her friends play

in Coppelius workshop and her anxiety over Franz brings more comic to the show.

In conclusion, I give coppelia a score as one of the greatest ballets with so many other

versions since the original version was made. The human/mechanical opposition gives it even a

more reasonable theme, this theme allows for a more metaphors to be incorporated into the play

and reflect on the ballet itself, for example anxiety of swanhilda about the doll. The ballet takes

different emphasis that relates coppelia to other earlier romantic ballets.

Works cited

Artemusicaeca. YouTube, YouTube, 7 Oct. 2013,

“Ballet & Beer | Coppélia: Recreating a Classic Ballet from 1870.” Cincinnati Ballet, 2017

C., Jillian. “The Dancewear Guru.” Coppelia Ballet Summary, 1 Jan. 1970, 2016.

Röder Birgit. A Study of the Major Novellas of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Camden House, 2003
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