Coppélia is a comic ballet with music by Léo Delibes. The choreography was by Arthur Saint-Léon. The story of the ballet was written by Saint-Léon and Charles Nuitter. It is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann called Der Sandmann (The Sandman). The ballet was first performed in 25 May 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial de l´Opéra in Paris.
The plan for the first performance of Coppélia to take place in 1869 had to change because the dancer who was to dance the main part of Swanilda was seriously ill. A desperate search for another dancer took place. Delibes went all the way to Italy looking for a suitable ballerina, but he did not find one. However, the choreographer Saint-Léon then discovered a girl of 15 in Paris. Her name was Giuseppina Bozzacchi. She was exceptionally gifted and very youthful. She was very young indeed to be chosen for a big part in a professional ballet, but Saint-Léon made some changes to suit the young girl and she danced the part with tremendous success at its first performance on. Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie were in the audience. Bozzacchi danced with incredible grace, and she was an excellent actress as well. Everyone loved her charm. In July the Franco-Prussian War broke out and there were no further performances of Coppélia for a while as the theatres were closed. Saint-Léon died in September, and then, tragically, Giuseppina Bozzacchi died of cholera on her 17th birthday.
Act One.The story is about a man called Dr Coppélius who makes dolls. He has just invented a mechanical doll which he calls Coppélia. The doll looks just like a real person. He puts the doll on the balcony of his house. A young man called Franz sees the doll, thinks she is real, and falls in love with her. Franz’s fiancée, a girl called Swanilda, is very angry.
The peasants come in and dance. The mayor comes in and says that, because the town is going to get a new bell, there will be a feast. All couples who are engaged to be married will get some money from the Duke The mayor asks Swanilda whether she will be there. Swanilda wants to know whether Franz will still be faithful to her. She has an ear of corn. If it makes a rustling noise, then that will mean that Franz does love her. However much she shakes it there is no sound. Franz tells her that he still loves her.
When Dr Coppélius goes out for a walk he drops his key. Swanilda and her 4 friends, find it and pick it up. They decide to go into the house to see Coppélia. Franz decides to go too. When Dr Coppélius comes back he finds his house full of people.
Act Two. Swanilda and her friends are astonished to find that Coppélia is only a doll. They make the other mechanical dolls move and they dance around them. Doctor Coppélius enters and chases them all away, apart from Swanilda who has hidden. She takes Coppélia’s place. When Franz looks through the window Doctor Coppélius pretends to be one of his own dolls. He invites him in, then grabs him and threatens to punish him. Then he has another idea. He gives Franz something to make him fall asleep and then tries to bring Coppélia to life by putting Franz’s spirit into the doll. The dollmaker is delighted when it seems to be working, but he does not realize that it is, in fact, Swanilda who has disguised herself as the doll. He does not know what to do with her, and teaches her a Spanish dance and a Scottish dance. When Franz wakes up, Swanilda’s friends return and Doctor Coppélius realizes he has been tricked.
Act Three. The Duke gives out purses of gold to the couples who are engaged to be married. Doctor Coppélius comes in and complains that his dolls have been ruined. The Duke gives him some gold. The peasants dance the “Masque of the Hours”. Franz and Swanilda are forgiven and they are married.