La Fille du Pharaon
Premiere of this production: 05 May 2000
The performance has 2 intermissions
Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes
Libretto by Jean-Henry Saint-Georges
and Maurice Petipa after the story Le roman de la momie
by Theophile Gautier,
version by Pierre Lacotte
“A Dream from the Past” — such was the sign, written in bold letters so it was visible through the thick clouds covering the stage, that appeared at the end of the prologue to the ballet La Fille du Pharaon, at its premiere performance in 1862. And this was followed by a grandiose spectacle, the like of which had never been seen by imperial ballet. Here there was something for all tastes. A desert storm, a lion-hunt, various chases, several suicide attempts, a fantastic celebration of all the world’s rivers and also of nereids and nymphs at the bottom of the majestic Nile. The cast included an English aristocrat traveler, his servant, a Sancho Panza-like character, a Nubian King, Armenian merchants who, after smoking opium, had found themselves in Ancient Egypt...And in the heavens there appeared Egyptian gods, under the command of Osiris and Isis.
La Fille du Pharaon was immensely popular with the public. To obtain a box for a performance of this ballet, which started at 7.30 in the evening and ended just before midnight, was considered a great feat. La Fille had a long and happy performance history. First produced by Marius Petipa in 1862, at Petersburg’s Bolshoi Theatre, it was given several revivals. It was adored by Petersburg ballerinas, especially Mathilda Kshessinska who regarded the ballet as her ’personal property’ and shone in it not only by virtue of her technique, but also thanks to her Romanov Faberge diamonds. In La Fille, Kshessinska felt herself to be the ’queen of the ball’.
La Fille du Pharaon was danced to acclaim in Moscow too. In 1864, the ballet was transferred from Petersburg to Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. But in Soviet times it was considered to be ideologically immature and, dropped from the repertoire, it was virtually forgotten.
Pierre Lacotte, the famous researcher into our ballet legacy, who has breathed new life into more than one forgotten masterpiece of past centuries, had long ago been fired with enthusiasm by the idea of resurrecting Petipa’s mighty, pseudo-Egyptian fresco: ever since, in fact, he had begun to realize the fascinating discoveries to be made by the would-be restorer of ancient ballets, an art genre that one might think did not lend itself to restoration.
The second birth of La Fille du Pharaon took place in Moscow in the year 2000 — the reconstruction was undertaken by Pierre Lacotte in answer to an exclusive commission from the Bolshoi Theatre.
La Fille’s third birth, may be considered to be the video recording of this production taken by the French Bel Air Media Company.
A young Englishman, Lord Wilson, is traveling through Egypt with his servant, John Bull. At the foot of a pyramid they meet a caravan of Arab merchants who kindly invite them into their tent.
Suddenly, a very powerful storm gets up and the travelers and merchants hurry to take shelter in the nearest pyramid.
The caretaker of the pyramid requests his uninvited guests not to make a noise and points to a tomb right at the back of the pyramid; in it lies Aspicia, the daughter of one of Egypt’s most powerful Pharaohs.
Settling down in a corner of the pyramid, the Arab merchants light up their opium pipes. Lord Wilson also asks for a chibouk... He falls asleep and soon all are wreathed in a light cloud of smoke.
Fantastic dreams now take form: the walls of the sepulchre disappear and the mummies come to life and leave their sarcophagi. After them comes Aspicia, their mistress, and daughter of the mighty Pharaoh. Bending over the Englishman, she lays her hand on his heart. At that very minute, a magical metamorphosis takes place: Lord Wilson and his servant become Egyptians. The former is called Taor, the latter — Passiphonte.
Enchanted by Aspicia’s beauty, Taor tries to follow her but the princess disappears in a limpid haze.
Taor, and his servant Passiphonte, hurry off to the forest in search of Aspicia. They find her by a miracle, sleeping on a moss-covered rock. Nearby are her attendants, who are worn out by the intense heat.
Taor cautiously walks up to the Princess and places his hand on her heart. Aspicia wakes up and recognizes the handsome youth. Oblivious to everything around them, they gaze at each other.
In the distance, hunting horns can be heard. Aspicia asks Taor to hide. Ramze, her slave, who has noticed the stranger, tries to persuade her mistress to leave. The hunters appear and warn Aspicia that there is a lion in the forest: Aspicia goes off with the hunters in pursuit of the lion. The lion is surrounded but, suddenly, he breaks out of the ring of hunters and makes for the Princess. Taor who, from his hiding place, is following the scene with horror, seizes a bow, left behind by one of the hunters, and neatly lodges an arrow right in the lion’s heart. Aspicia is saved. She loses consciousness but Taor catches her before she falls and carries her off to a place of safety.
A fanfare of trumpets announces that the Pharaoh and his suite are approaching. Seeing his daughter in the arms of a stranger, the Pharaoh gives orders that the latter should be arrested. Coming to, Aspicia tells her father that Taor has saved her life and should be rewarded. The Pharaoh’s rage turns to gratitude. He orders that the youth be freed and invites him to his palace.
Taor visits Aspicia in her sumptuous apartments and declares to her his love. The Pharaoh enters, surrounded by a brilliant suite of dignitaries and palace officials. They are followed by the King of Nubia who has come to ask for the hand of the Pharaoh’s daughter. The Egyptian potentate agrees to give his daughter in marriage to the King of Nubia and the two men sign a treaty of friendship.
Hearing of this, Taor is out of his mind with despair. Aspicia tries to calm him down and promises she will never belong to anyone except him.
The Pharaoh commands that the festivities to mark his daughter’s wedding should start. Full of sadness, Taor reminds Aspicia that soon she is to marry the King of Nubia. They decide to run away.
At the height of the festivities, Taor is handed the key to a secret door through which the couple make their escape from the palace.
The Pharaoh is furious when he hears of his daughter’s disappearance, and orders that the runaway couple should be apprehended. Noticing the secret door, the King of Nubia sets off, together with his bodyguards, in pursuit of Taor and Aspicia.
Taor and Aspicia are hiding in a fisherman’s hut on the banks of the Nile. At nightfall, the fishermen get ready to go fishing and invite their guests to come too. Aspicia, who is tired, decides not to go. Taor advises her to rest and goes off with the fishermen.
No sooner has he departed, than the King of Nubia, accompanied by his bodyguards, enters the hut. Aspicia is only too well aware that her marriage to the King of Nubia will separate her forever from the man she loves. Therefore, to avoid being caught, she runs over to the window and throws herself into the Nile.
Meanwhile, Taor and Passiphonte come back into the hut. The King of Nubia orders that they should be seized and threatens them with revenge for having abducted Aspicia.
The mighty God of the River Nile, the ruler of the underworld, gives Aspicia a warm welcome and recognizes her to be the daughter of the great Egyptian Pharaoh. But the young Princess has only one request — she wants to see Taor again. The God of the Nile fulfils her wish. In answer to his command Taor appears now at the top of a cliff, now in the limpid waters of waterfall. Longing to be reunited with her love one, Aspicia begs the ruler of the Nile to return her to dry land. The Nile God does as she bids.
The Pharaoh’s palace. The ruler of Egypt is in despair. He demands that Taor be brought into his presence and threatens to kill him if the latter does not tell him where Aspicia is hiding. But Taor has no idea where the Princess is.
So the Pharaoh commands that the youth be condemned to death: he is to be bitten by a sacred snake. But at this very moment, the sounds of a joyful march can be heard in the distance: the fishermen have found Aspicia and are bringing her back to the palace.
The Princess throws herself into her father’s arms and tells him of her adventures, of her love for Taor and of how the King of Nubia threatened her and forced her to jump into the river. The Pharaoh tears up the treaty of friendship with the King of Nubia, and orders the latter to leave. Aspicia begs her father to give Taor his freedom, but the Pharaoh will not hear of it: he cannot forgive Taor for abducting his daughter. So then Aspicia declares that she is ready to die together with her loved one. And, going up to the sacred snake, she holds out her hand so that it will bite her. The Pharaoh rushes over to his daughter and holds her back. Touched by Aspicia’s selflessness and the depth of her feeling, he forgives Taor and gives his blessing to the young couple. At the height of the general rejoicing, the stage is enveloped in clouds.
In place of the palace, a pyramid now appears again. Lord Wilson wakes up and looks round him in astonishment. In the far corner of the pyramid, he notices the tomb of the Pharaoh’s daughter. His face lights up with a radiant smile as he remembers the wonderful dream he has just had.
La Fille du Pharaon (The Pharaoh's Daughter), is a ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa, to the music of Cesare Pugni, with libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges from Theophile Gautier's Le Roman de la Momie. First presented by the Imperial Ballet at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 18 January (30 January) 1862.
The principal dancers at the opening night were Carolina Rosati (Mummy/Aspicia), Nicholas Goltz (Pharaoh), Marius Petipa (Ta-Hor), and Lev Ivanov (Fisherman).
The libretto was a collaboration between Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Petipa, partly after Théophile Gautier's Le Roman de la Momie. The music was composed by Cesare Pugni, while the design was by A. Roller, G. Wagner (scenery), Kelwer and Stolyakov (costumes).
Other productions include: Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (staged Petipa), with Praskovia Lebedeva as Aspicia, Moscow, 29 November (old style 17 November) 1864; Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (staged Aleksander Gorsky after Petipa), with Vasily Tikhomirov as the English Tourist (Taor/Lord Wilson) and Enrichetta Grimaldi as Vint-Anta (Aspicia), Moscow, 27 November 1905; a new production by Pierre Lacotte for the Bolshoi Ballet in 2000, which included only three reconstructed dances from Petipa's original choreography for the Grand Pas d'action of Act II.
The Sergeyev Collection, housed in the Harvard University Theatre Collection, contains choreographic notations of Petipa's 1898 production of The Pharaoh's Daughter for Mathilde Kschessinskaya. The notations document Petipa's choreography for the dances of the principal roles, while the rest of the choreography (i.e. for the corps de ballet and much of the action sequences) is only vaguely documented.
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