GISELLE | Ballet Palais Garnier Paris

Giselle, or The Wilis (French: Giselle, ou Les Wilis) is a romantic ballet in two acts that was first performed by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris, France, on Sunday 28 June 1841. Giselle was a triumph. The ballet became hugely popular. It was staged at once across Europe, Russia, and the United States.

The ballet is about a peasant girl named Giselle who dies of heart failure after discovering her lover is betrothed to another. The Wilis, a group of supernatural women who dance men to death, summon Giselle from her grave. They target her lover for death, but Giselle's great love frees him from their grasp.

Librettists Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier took their inspiration for the plot from a prose passage about the Wilis in De l'Allemagne by Heinrich Heine, and from a poem called "Fantômes" in Les Orientales by Victor Hugo.

The prolific opera and ballet composer Adolphe Adam composed the music; Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot designed the choreography. The role of Giselle was intended for the Italian ballerina Carlotta Grisi as her debut piece for the Paris public. She became the first to dance the role, and was the only ballerina to dance the role at the Opèra for many years.

Act I
The following plot summary is that of the first performances in Paris with Grisi in the title role. The plot changed slightly in details as the years passed.
 
The ballet opens on an autumnal day in the Rhineland during the Middle Ages. The grape harvest is in progress. Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a young nobleman disguised as a peasant, is sowing his last wild oats before his upcoming marriage to the princess Bathilde. He has fallen in love with the shy and beautiful village girl, Giselle. She knows nothing of his real life.

Hilarion, a gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle. He tries to convince her that Albrecht cannot be trusted. Giselle ignores his warnings. Giselle's mother Berthe is very protective of her daughter, as Giselle has a weak heart that leaves her in delicate health. She discourages a relationship between Giselle and Albrecht.

A party of noblemen seeking refreshment following the rigors of the hunt arrives in the village. Albrecht quickly hurries away, knowing he will be recognized by Bathilde, who is in attendance. The villagers welcome the party, offer them refreshments, and perform several dances. Bathilde is charmed with Giselle's sweet and demure nature, not knowing of her relationship with Albrecht. Giselle is honored when the beautiful stranger offers her a necklace as a gift.

Hilarion interrupts the festivities. He has discovered Albrecht's sword, and presents it as proof that the peasant lad is not who he pretends to be. All are shocked by the revelation, but none more than Giselle, who becomes inconsolable when faced with her lover's deception. Knowing that they can never be together, Giselle flies into a mad fit of grief, causing her weak heart to give out at last. She dies in Albrecht's arms.

Act II

A moonlit glade near Giselle's grave. Hilarion mourns at Giselle's headstone, but is frightened away by the arrival of the Wilis, the spirits of women jilted by their lovers at the altar. The Wilis, led by their merciless queen, Myrtha, haunt the forest at night to seek revenge on any man they encounter, forcing their victims to dance until they die of exhaustion.

Myrtha and the Wilis rouse Giselle's spirit from her grave and induct her into their clan, before disappearing into the forest. Albrecht arrives to lay flowers on Giselle's grave, and he weeps with guilt over her death. Giselle's spirit appears, and Albrecht begs her forgiveness. Giselle, her love undiminished, gently forgives him. She disappears to join the rest of the Wilis, and Albrecht desperately follows her.

Meanwhile, the Wilis have cornered Hilarion. They use their magic to force him to dance until he is nearly dead, and then drown him in a nearby lake. They then turn on Albrecht, sentencing him to death as well. He pleads to Myrtha for his life, but she coldly refuses. Giselle's pleas are also dismissed, and Albrecht is forced to dance until sunrise. However, the power of Giselle's love counters the Wilis' magic and spares his life. The other spirits return to their graves at daybreak, but Giselle has broken through the feelings of hatred and vengeance that control the Wilis, and is thus released from their powers. After bidding a tender farewell to Albrecht, Giselle returns to her grave to rest in peace.

Program and cast

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January 2020 Next

Paris Opera - Palace Garnier

The Paris Opera (French: Opéra de Paris, or simply the Opéra) is the primary opera company of Paris. It was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV as the Académie d'Opéra and shortly thereafter was placed under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Lully and renamed the Académie Royale de Musique. Classical ballet as we know it today arose within the Paris Opera as the Paris Opera Ballet and has remained an integral and important part of the company. Currently called the Opéra national de Paris, it primarily produces operas at its modern 2700-seat theatre Opéra Bastille which opened in 1989, and ballets and some classical operas at the older 1970-seat Palais Garnier which opened in 1875. Small scale and contemporary works are also staged in the 500-seat Amphitheatre under the Opéra Bastille.
The company's annual budget is in the order of 200 million euros, of which 100 million come from the French state and 70 million from box office receipts. With this money, the company runs the two houses and supports a large permanent staff, which includes the orchestra of 170, a chorus of 110 and the corps de ballet of 150
Each year, the Opéra presents about 380 performances of opera, ballet and other concerts, to a total audience of about 800,000 people (of which 17% come from abroad), which is a very good average seat occupancy rate of 94%In the 2012/13 season, the Opéra presents 18 opera titles (two in a double bill), 13 ballets, 5 symphonic concerts and two vocal recitals, plus 15 other programmes. The company's training bodies are also active, with 7 concerts from the Atelier Lyrique and 4 programmes from the École de Danse.

The Palais Garnier is a 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was originally called the Salle des Capucines because of its location on the Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, but soon became known as the Palais Garnier in recognition of its opulence and its architect, Charles Garnier. The theatre is also often referred to as the Opéra Garnier, and historically was known as the Opéra de Paris or simply the Opéra, as it was the primary home of the Paris Opera and its associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989, when the Opéra Bastille opened at the Place de la Bastille. The Paris Opera now mainly uses the Palais Garnier for ballet.

The Palais Garnier is "probably the most famous opera house in the world, a symbol of Paris like Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, or the Sacré Coeur Basilica." This is at least partly due to its use as the setting for Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera and, especially, the novel's subsequent adaptations in films and Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular 1986 musical. Another contributing factor is that among the buildings constructed in Paris during the Second Empire, besides being the most expensive, it has been described as the only one that is "unquestionably a masterpiece of the first rank." This opinion is far from unanimous however: the 20th-century French architect Le Corbusier once described it as "a lying art" and contended that the "Garnier movement is a décor of the grave".

The Palais Garnier also houses the Bibliothèque-Musée de l'Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum). Although the Library-Museum is no longer managed by the Opera and is part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the museum is included in unaccompanied tours of the Palais Garnier.

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