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Giuseppina Bozzacchi as Swanhilde in the Saint-Léon/Delibes Coppélia. Paris, 1870
Choreographer Arthur Saint-Léon
Music Léo Delibes
Based on Der Sandmann by E. T. A. Hoffmann
Premiere 25 May 1870
Théâtre Impérial l'Opéra, Paris
Characters Doctor Coppélius
Genre Romantic
Type Comic ballet

Coppélia is a comic ballet originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon to the music of Léo Delibes, with libretto by Charles Nuitter. Nuitter's libretto and mise-en-scène was based upon two stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman) and Die Puppe (The Doll). In Greek, κοπελιά means girl, young lady. Coppélia premiered on 25 May 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial l'Opéra, with the 16-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi in the principal role of Swanhilde. Its first flush of success was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the Siege of Paris (which also led to the early death of Giuseppina Bozzacchi, on her 17th birthday), but eventually it became the most-performed ballet at the Opéra.

Modern-day productions are traditionally derived from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg in the late 19th century. Petipa's choreography was documented in the Stepanov method of choreographic notation at the turn of the 20th century. These notations were later used to stage the St. Petersburg version for such companies as the Vic-Wells Ballet (precursor of today's Royal Ballet).


  • Plot 1
  • Influence and background 2
  • Alternative versions 3
    • San Francisco Ballet 3.1
    • Balanchine 3.2
    • Second Life - LPBA 3.3
  • Ballet 4
  • Scoring 5
  • Popular culture 6
  • Notes 7
  • External links 8


Dr. Coppelius is an inventor who has made a life-size dancing doll. It is so lifelike that Franz, a village youth, becomes infatuated with it and sets aside his true heart's desire, Swanhilda. She shows him his folly by dressing as the doll, pretending to make it come to life and ultimately saving him from an untimely end at the hands of the inventor.

Act I

The story begins during a town festival to celebrate the arrival of a new bell. The town crier announces that, when it arrives, anyone who becomes married will be awarded a special gift of money. Swanhilda and Franz plan to marry during the festival. However, Swanhilda becomes unhappy with Franz because he seems to be paying more attention to a girl named Coppélia, who sits motionless on the balcony of a nearby house. The house belongs to a mysterious and faintly diabolical inventor, Doctor Coppélius. Although Coppélia spends all of her time sitting motionless and reading, Franz is mesmerized by her beauty and is determined to attract her attention. Still upset with Franz, Swanhilda shakes an ear of wheat to her head: if it rattles, then she will know that Franz loves her. Upon doing this, however, she hears nothing. When she shakes it by Franz's head, he also hears nothing; but then he tells her that it rattles. However, she does not believe him and runs away heartbroken.

Later on, Dr. Coppelius leaves his house and is heckled by a group of boys. After shooing them away, he continues on without realising that he has dropped his keys in the melée. Swanhilde finds the keys, which gives her the idea of learning more about Coppélia. She and her friends decide to enter Dr. Coppelius' house. Meanwhile, Franz develops his own plan to meet Coppélia, climbing a ladder to her balcony.

Act II

Swanhilda and her friends find themselves in a large room filled with people. However, the occupants aren't moving. The girls discover that, rather than people, these are life-size mechanical dolls. They quickly wind them up and watch them move. Swanhilda also finds Coppélia behind a curtain and discovers that she, too, is a doll.

Dr. Coppelius returns home to find the girls. He becomes angry with them, not only for trespassing but for also disturbing his workroom. He kicks them out and begins cleaning up the mess. However, upon noticing Franz at the window, Coppélius invites him in. The inventor wants to bring Coppélia to life but, to do that, he needs a human sacrifice. With a magic spell, he will take Franz's spirit and transfer it to Coppélia. After Dr. Coppelius proffers him some wine laced with sleeping powder, Franz begins to fall asleep. The inventor then readies his magic spell.

However, Dr. Coppelius did not expel all the girls: Swanhilda is still there, hidden behind a curtain. She dresses up in Coppélia's clothes and pretends that the doll has come to life. She wakes Franz and then winds up all the mechanical dolls to aid their escape. Dr. Coppelius becomes confused and then saddened when he finds a lifeless Coppélia behind the curtain.


Swanhilda and Franz are about to make their wedding vows when the angry Dr. Coppelius appears, claiming damages. Dismayed at having caused such an upset, Swanhilda offers Dr. Coppelius her dowry in return for his forgiveness. However, Franz tells Swanhilde to keep her dowry and offers to pay Dr. Coppelius instead. At that point, the mayor intervenes and gives Dr. Coppelius a bag of money, which placates him. Swanhilda and Franz are married and the entire town celebrates by dancing.

Influence and background

Doctor Coppelius is not unlike Hoffmann's sinister Herr Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker or the macabre Svengali-like travelling magician of the same name in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann.

The part of Franz was danced en travesti by Eugénie Fiocre, a convention that pleased the male members of the Jockey-Club de Paris and was retained in Paris until after World War II.[1]

The festive wedding-day divertissements in the village square that occupy Act III are often deleted in modern danced versions.

Some influence on this story comes from travelling shows of the late 18th and early 19th centuries starring mechanical automatons. This field of entertainment has been under-documented, but a recent survey of the field is contained in The Mechanical Turk by Tom Standage (2002). These shows were later to also influence Charles Babbage in his invention of the difference engine.

Alternative versions

A variation of the Coppélia story is contained in Jacques Offenbach's opera, The Tales of Hoffmann, a fictional work about the same Hoffmann who wrote the story that inspired Coppélia. The opera consists of a prologue, three fantastic tales in which Hoffmann is a participant, and an epilogue. In the first story, based on Der Sandmann, Hoffmann falls in love with a mechanical doll, Olympia, but in this case, the story takes on a melancholy tinge as the doll breaks apart.

San Francisco Ballet

In 1974, San Francisco Ballet produced a complete version of Coppélia, choreographed by Willam Christensen. It was the Company's first full-length ballet, and Christensen was the first American choreographer to produce a complete Coppélia in the 20th century. The ballet, which starred Willam Christensen as Franz, Earl Riggins as Dr. Coppelius, and Janet Reed as Swanhilda, was an instant hit.


In 1974, New York City Ballet. He was assisted by Alexandra Danilova, who had performed the title role many times during her dancing career.[2] She staged the Petipa choreography for Act II. Balanchine created new choreography for Act III and for the mazurka, czardas and Frantz's variation in Act I. Patricia McBride danced the role of Swanilda; Helgi Tomasson danced the role of Frantz; Shaun O'Brian portrayed Dr. Coppélius.

Second Life - LPBA

From 2011 the Little Princess Ballet Academy (LPBA) has performed Coppélia in Second Life. The adaption follows the original in three acts, but the mime parts are problematic to perform in Second Life and has been changed, together with some changes in the sequences. All parts are played by individual avatars.[3]

The LPBA performing Coppélia in Second Life, 23 June 2013 - from Act III.


Below is the résumé of scenes and dances taken from the theatre program of the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet. It is the Imperial Ballet's production as staged by Marius Petipa that serves as the basis for all modern-day productions.

Act I

  • no. 01 Prélude et Mazurka
  • no. 02 Valse et jalousie
  • no. 03 Scène
  • no. 04 Mazurka
  • no. 05 Scène
  • no. 06 Ballade de l’Épi
  • no. 07 Thème slave varié
  • no. 08 Csárdás
  • no. 09 Finale

Act II

  • no. 10 Introduction et scène
  • no. 11 Jeux avec les automates
  • no. 12 Scène à boire: Franz et Dr. Coppélius
  • no. 13 Scène et danse de la Poupée
  • no. 14 L'espièglerie de Swanhilde
  • no. 15 Boléro: Danse espagnol
  • no. 16 Gigue: Danse écossaise
  • no. 17 Scène finale


  • no. 18 Marche de la cloche

Fête de la cloche

    • no. 19 Valse des heures
    • no. 20 Variation: "L'aurore"
    • no. 21 Variation: "La prière"
    • no. 22 "Le travail"
    • no. 23 "L'hymen—Noce villageoise"
    • no. 24 "La discorde et la guerre" (this number was omitted from Imperial-era performances and as such is often absent from many modern-day productions)

Grand Pas de deux -

    • no. 25 Grand adage: "La paix"
    • supplement - Variation pour le début de Léontine Beaugrand (music: Léo Delibes; 1872)
    • supplement - Variation: "Danse du marié", ca. 1875 (music: Ernest Guiraud)
    • supplement - Variation pour Mlle. Dionesiia Potapenko: "Travail", 1904 (music: Léo Delibes, from the ballet Sylvia)
    • no. 26 Variation: "Danse de Fête"
    • no. 27 Finale: Galop générale


Popular culture

Coppélia was featured in the Danish film Ballerina, shown in two parts in the U.S. on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1966 and later released theatrically in Europe. Dancer Kirsten Simone played the lead. A version is included in the revue Wake Up and Dream.

Coppélia's Casket (Kopperia no Hitsugi, the casket Coppélia, sung by the Japanese duo Ali Project, (Arika Takarano and Katakura Mikiya) is the title of the introductory song of Japanese anime Noir, the story of two killers. The Coffin of Coppélia ago several references to the story of Coppélia such as "People are tired of dancing dolls."

A movie, The Fantastic World of Dr. Coppelius / El fantástico mundo del doctor Coppelius, released on 25 December 1968, In the U.S., was titled Dr. Coppelius. The Spanish production, with the ballet company and orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceo of Barcelona, features Walter Slezak as Dr. Coppelius and Claudia Corday in the doll-comes-to-life role, Swanhilda / Coppelia.[4][5]

A scene from the famous ballet film The Red Shoes shows Moira Shearer playing the fictional Victoria Page. Vicky is seen as Swanhilda in the scene in which she pretends to be Coppelia, and fools even Dr. Coppelius.

The ballet Coppélia and Giuseppina Bozzacchi's tragic fate are narrated in the novel No Telling (London: Vintage, 2004) by British author Adam Thorpe (*1956).


  1. ^ Garafola, Lynn, "The Travesty Dancer in Nineteenth-Century Ballet" in Dance Research Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 35-40. (Also reprinted in Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright (eds) Moving History / Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader, Wesleyan University Press, 2001, pp. 210-216. ISBN 0-8195-6413-3)
  2. ^ Macaulay, Alastair (30 May 2012). "Recreating Lost Instants in a Reconstructed Ballet". New York Times (New York, United States). Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Dance Queens blog on the 2012 performance
  4. ^
  5. ^ New York Times Review

External links

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