Premiere of this production: 20 Feb 2008
The performance has 1 intermission
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
The ballet, which has maintained the romantic dancing style for many years and became one of biggest theatrical legends of the 19th century. The illusiveness and unattainability of one’s dreams are revealed through the story of James, a young Scotsman. He has promised his heart to a girl from the local village but then comes across an enchanting spirit of the air, the sylph. Having forsaken everything on earth, the young man attempts to get close to this spectral beauty.
A Scottish manor-house
It is the morning of James’s marriage to Effie and he is asleep in his armchair. A winged figure, a Sylphide, is kneeling by his side. She kisses him on his forehead and he wakes up confused. Entranced by the vision of the Sylph, he attempts to capture her, but she escapes him; as she reaches the fireplace, she vanishes up the chimney. Troubled, he wakes his companions but none of them have seen her. Gurn, James’s rival, arrives and learns that James is infatuated with someone other than Effie.
The preparations for the wedding are in full swing. James hardly notices Effie; instead she is wooed by Gurn whom she ignores. James joins in the preparations but gradually realizes that, as Effie dreams more and more of the wedding, his own dreams go far beyond the walls of the manor-house.
An old woman, Madge, has slipped unnoticed into the hall to warm herself by the fire. James, sensing that she is a sinister presence, takes an immediate dislike to her and cannot bear to see her sitting where he last saw the Sylph. He orders her to leave but Effie calms him and persuades him to let Madge tell the fortunes of some of the guests. Madge prophesies that Effie will marry Gurn, and James, furious at this, threatens Madge, who curses him. Effie runs off to dress for the wedding leaving James alone and in turmoil.
The Sylph once again shows herself to James, declares her love for him and tells him that they belong together, Gurn enters and, believing that he may have caught James talking to another woman, attempts to reveal the situation to Effie but fails
As the wedding festivities begin, the Sylph reappears and, unable to resist her enticements, James follows her into the forest. Effie is left broken-hearted.
A glade in the forest
Deep in the forest, shrouded in mist, Madge is planning her revenge. She makes a veil, irresistible to all in a magic cauldron. As the fog lifts, James enters with the Sylph, who shows him her realm. She brings him berries and water but evades his embrace. To lift his spirits she calls on her sisters and the forest fills with sylphs, who dance for James. Try as he might, he is unable to catch the Sylph in his arms
Effie and James’s companions reach the glade looking for him. Gurn finds James’s hat, but Madge convinces him to say nothing. He proposes to Effie and, encouraged by Madge, she accepts. Everyone leaves to prepare for the wedding of Effie and Gurn.
Meanwhile, James is desperately looking for the Sylph, and Madge convinces him that the veil she has made will enable him to catch her. The Sylph appears and, seeing the veil is totally captivated by it. She allows James to place it around her shoulders and as he does so, he kisses her. His embrace is fatal and the Sylph’s wings fall to the ground. In despair James sees what should have been his own wedding party in the distance. As Madge forces him to see what he has lost, he realizes that in trying to possess the unobtainable he has lost everything.
La Sylphide (The Sylph) is one of the world's oldest surviving romantic ballets. There were two versions of the ballet; the version choreographed by the Danish balletmaster August Bournonville (1805-1879) is the only version known to have survived.
On March 12, 1832, the first version of La Sylphide premiered at the Salle Le Peletier of the Paris Opera with choreography by Filippo Taglioni and music by Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer. Taglioni designed the work as a showcase for his daughter Marie. The ballet's libretto was written by tenor Adolphe Nourrit, the first Robert in Meyerbeer's Robert Le Diable, an opera which introduced the dancer Marie Taglioni in its dances section The ballet of nuns. Nourrit's scenario was loosely based on a story by Charles Nodier, Trilby, ou Le lutin d'Argail, but swapped the genders of the protagonists — a goblin and a fisherman's wife in Nodier; a sprite and a farmer in the ballet.
In 1836, La Sylphide was choreographed anew by the Danish balletmaster August Bournonville with music by Herman Severin Løvenskiold. Bournonville had intended to present a revival of Taglioni's original version in Copenhagen with the Royal Danish Ballet, but the Paris Opera demanded too high a price for Schneitzhoeffer's score. In the end, Bournonville mounted his own production based on the original libretto. The premiere took place on November 28, 1836. The Bournonville version has been danced in its original form by the Royal Danish Ballet ever since its creation and remains one of Bournonville's most celebrated works. Modern interpreters of Bournonville's version include Eva Evdokimova and Lis Jeppesen, whose performance is recorded on DVD.
In 1892, Marius Petipa mounted a revival of Taglioni's original La Sylphide for the Imperial Ballet, with additional music by Riccardo Drigo. A variation Drigo composed for the ballerina Varvara Nikitina in Petipa's version is today the traditional solo danced by the lead ballerina of the famous Paquita Grand Pas Classique, interpolated by Anna Pavlova in 1904.
In 1972, a revival of the Taglioni version was staged by Pierre Lacotte for the Paris Opera Ballet. Since Taglioni's choreography has been irretrievably lost, Lacotte's choreography is based on prints, notes, drawings, and archival materials from the era of the ballet's premiere. Lacotte's choreography is in the style of the period but entirely new and has been criticised by some as inauthentic. Interpreters of the role of Lacotte's version at the Opera National de Paris include Ghislaine Thesmar (Lacotte's wife) and Aurelie Dupont. Both artists have recorded their work on DVD and video.
La Sylphide is often confused with Les Sylphides, another ballet involving the mythical sylph, or forest sprite. The latter was choreographed by Michel Fokine for the Ballets Russes as a short performance. Though inspired by La Sylphide, it was meant to be performed as an independent ballet with its own merits.
John Barnett's 1834 opera The Mountain Sylph is based on the storyline of La Sylphide; this opera's plot was in turn satirized by W. S. Gilbert in the 1882 Savoy Opera, Iolanthe.
© Photo by Yelena Fetisova
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