Ballet San Jose
Story of the ballet

Act I - The Harvest

Doctor Coppélius is putting the finishing touches on Coppélia (The Girl with the Enamel Eyes) after setting her out to dry on the balcony of his house. Coppélia appears to be reading a book. She seems so real that Doctor Coppélius is, himself, almost unaware that she is only a doll. In his loneliness, the fanatical dollmaker has created Coppélia to be his companion and secretly dreams of discovering a way of bringing her to life.

As the town awakens, the baker (Swanilda's mother), the tavern keepers (Franz's parents), the milkmaid, the cobbler, the tailor, the flower seller, and various children go about their morning business. The priest gets his daily bread from the bakery and shepherds the children to school.

Swanilda arrives and greets her friends who are off to their work in the fields. Seeing Coppélia on the balcony, she dances to attract her attention and wonders why the reading figure does not respond. Like everyone else, she believes the doll to be a living person.

Coming out of the tavern, Franz sees Coppélia and is infatuated by the beautiful doll. He buys some flowers for Swanilda, who cannot be located. While the baker searches for her daughter, Franz continues his overtures to the doll. Bowing, blowing kisses and waving, he too believes that she is human.

Franz hides as Doctor Coppélius comes out to adjust the doll's mechanism, which he sets in motion. Coppélia stands up and blows kisses in the direction of Franz, who is unaware that these kisses are not really for him, but for Doctor Coppélius. Swanilda, entering at this moment, is dismayed by these kisses and dashes angrily away, only to return with some children who are chasing butterflies. They are clumsily assisted by Franz, who manages to crush the butterfly he has caught. Swanilda ridicules him and at the same time indicates her strong displeasure at Franz's attention to Coppélia.

To arouse Franz's jealousy, Swanilda dances a mazurka with Milorad, the leader of the wheat harvesters, who arrives to celebrate the harvest. Doctor Coppélius, irritated by the noise of the festival, removes his doll from the balcony into the house.

The priest, Father Jedermann, who arrives to bless the wheat harvest, tells the legend of the stalk of wheat, which when shaken will tell who is to be married. Only Swanilda hears the prediction of the wheat, but since she is still angry with Franz, she pretends to hear nothing. Franz listens and hears the wheat's message. An explosion from Doctor Coppélius' house gives evidence that he is still experimenting with potential ways of bringing his doll to life.

When the grape harvesters arrive to celebrate, Franz dances the czardas with Rosika, the queen of the harvest. This is his effort to arouse Swanilda's jealousy.

As the day ends, the festivities wane and villagers wend their way homeward. Swanilda is annoyed by Franz's flirting with Rosika and invites some girlfriends to accompany her home. Franz counters by inviting some of his friends to come for a drink at the tavern.

Doctor Coppélius leaves his house on his way to the tavern to relax. He is met by Franz's friends who make fun of this foolish old man who lives in a house with mysterious Coppélia.

Swanilda, looking for Franz from her window, sees Doctor Coppélius hide his latch key when leaving his house. As Doctor Coppélius rids himself of the pesky boys and goes into the tavern, Swanilda and her friends come into the square. Swanilda, taking Doctor Coppélius' house key from its hiding place, opens the front door. Her girl friends are reluctant to follow Swanilda into the house, where mysterious events revolving around Coppélia have been taking place. Nevertheless, Swanilda unlocks the door and forces her friends to accompany her into the house.

Doctor Coppélius, returns from the tavern, discovers his key in the street and sees that the door has been unlocked. Thinking the mischievous boys have entered his house, he rushes in and slams his door. As he disappears, Franz arrives with a ladder and proceeds to climb to the balcony of the house in quest of his new infatuation, Coppélia.

Act II - The Deception

Inside Doctor Coppélius' house, the girls are investigating the puzzling contents of the workshop. Discovering Coppélia, they realize that she is only one of several dolls—all quite human in appearance—which the girls uncover and set in motion.

Doctor Coppélius comes upon the scene and furious, he sends the girls scurrying in fear from the house. Swanilda, unable to escape with the others, hides in a closet with Coppélia, where she changes clothes with the doll and assumes her identity.

Franz, ignorant of all these events, enters from the balcony searching for Coppélia. Hiding until Franz is inside, Doctor Coppélius catches him after a frantic chase and questions his motives for being in the house. Franz, having seen Coppélia in the closet, explains to Doctor Coppélius that he has fallen in love with he doll and would, in fact, like to marry her.

Dr. Coppélius is much amused that this bumpkin has fallen in love with his creation. He conceives a plan: he will give Franz a potion, after which he will extract the "life force" from his body and use it to breathe real life into his beloved doll.

He entices Franz to drink the elixir, disguised as wine, and Franz soon falls into a deep sleep. While Franz is unconscious, Doctor Coppélius brings out Swanilda, who he thinks is his doll Coppélia.

With Franz safely under his control, Doctor Coppélius proceeds with a series of manipulations designed to bring life to the inanimate doll by removing life's energy from Franz. Through his maneuvers, Doctor Coppélius succeeds in eliciting from Swanilda a series of doll-like movements which he naturally attributes to the alchemy he has practiced upon Franz. Unsatisfied by her stilted movements, he mixes a very special potion designed to instill more realistic and human qualities in the doll. He sprinkles her with this mixture, whereupon she suddenly becomes quite genuinely alive for him. Overcome with joy at his success, Doctor Coppélius has the "living" Coppélia entertain him by dancing.

Tiring of the game she is playing, Swanilda tries to awaken the unconscious Franz, an effort that Doctor Coppélius attempts to thwart for fear she might succeed. But she persists and does succeed. Awaking but somewhat delirious, Franz sees Doctor Coppélius attempting to push Swanilda away. Thinking her to be Coppélia, he tries to chase away Doctor Coppélius—but the chased becomes the chaser and Franz is forced from the house. Hard upon his heels is Swanilda, who herself is trying to leave the house with Franz. Doctor Coppélius catches her, pushes her back into the closet and sits down to catch his breath.

Once more, Swanilda renews her escape attempt, knocking over all the dolls in the room and creating general mayhem and confusion in the workshop. Doctor Coppélius is still unaware that he is dealing with Swanilda and not with Coppélia, and he asks her why she is behaving so wretchedly. At this point, she discloses her true identity as Swanilda, and at the same time revealing the Coppélia doll sitting in disarray in the closet.

Franz, returning through the balcony, is still seeking Coppélia with whom he has fallen in love. He overhears Swanilda as she explains to Doctor Coppélius how she has changed places with the doll. Now understanding what has transpired, Franz is aware of his own stupidity. Through a foolish mistake he has become infatuated with nothing more than a doll; he knows now that it is Swanilda whom he has truly loved all along. Thereupon, he rescues Swanilda from the confusion and disarray of the house of the now-broken-hearted Doctor Coppélius.

Act III - The Wedding

The town is prepared for the wedding of Franz and Swanilda as it was foretold by the legend of the stalk of wheat. Amid the preparations in the village square, an irate Doctor Coppélius arrives to denounce the wedding and heap scorn upon the couple to be married. They have, after all, created havoc in his life. He is calmed by the parents of Franz and Swanilda and is given a sum of money to cover the damages to his property and person. Coppélius is also invited to the wedding. He cannot attend the wedding, he says, because he lacks the proper attire. Whereupon, the village tailor, Mudjik, offers him a new outfit for the nuptials. The widow Lustige, Swanilda's mother, takes Doctor Coppélius by the arm, intent on charming him. Doctor Coppélius forgets his dolls and his loneliness and joins in the festivities. There is general rejoicing in the village as Franz and Swanilda are married, thereby fulfilling the prophecy promised by the legend of the stalk of wheat.

Historical Notes

Dennis Nahat's Coppélia, like all other versions, has a libretto based upon a rethinking of themes from Der Sandmann, a tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann. The story was also the inspiration for the "doll" act of the Offenbach opera The Tales of Hoffmann. Subtitled The Girl with the Enamel Eyes, the original story invokes contentious rival inventors whose fighting ultimately results in the destruction of the enamel eyes of the doll they created. The ballet 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.

It is notable that in the 1870 Coppélia, folk or national dance (Czardas and Mazurka) was introduced for the first time into ballet. A precedent was thereby set for one of ballet's most worthy and continuing traditions.

From the Ballet San Jose Coppélia program - Copyright © 2004, Ballet San Jose

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