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The Ballets of Daniel-François-Esprit Auber

by Robert Ignatius Letellier


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Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (Caen 29 January 1782- Paris 12/13 May 1871) is primarily remembered as one of the great masters of opéra-comique, but also played a very important role in the development of Romantic ballet through the long danced interludes and divertissements in his grand operas La Muette de Portici, Le Dieu et la Bayadère, Gustave III, ou Le Bal masque, Le Lac des fées, L'Enfant prodigue, Zerline, and the opéra-ballet version of Le Cheval de bronze. Auber also adapted music of various of his operas to create the score of the full-length ballet Marco Spada; it is quite different from his own opera on the subject. Additionally, several choreographers have used Auber's music for their ballets, among them Frederick Ashton (Les Rendezvous, 1937), Victor Gsovsky (Grand Pas Classique, 1949) and Lew Christensen (Divertissement d'Auber, 1959).La Muette de Portici (1828), choreographed by Jean-Pierre Aumer, is set against the Neapolitan uprising of 1647, and was performed 500 times in Paris alone between 1828 and 1880. The opera provides one of the few serious subjects the composer tackled, and one which critics found to have a persuasive dramatic content. An unusual aspect of the work is that the main character, a mute girl, is performed by a mime or a ballerina. The role of ballet in La Muette is important in setting the local scene, using dance episodes, whether courtly, and therefore Spanish—as in the guarucha and bolero in act 1, or popular, and therefore Neapolitan—as in the act 3 tarantella. Dance is also innate to the dramatic situation in the extended mime sequences for the mute heroine each with its own specially crafted music and character. The music responds to, and reflects, the vivid and imposing scenic effects (based on historical and pictorial research by the great stage designers and painters Cicéri and Daguerre). Le Dieu et la Bayadère (1830), set in India, was choreographed by Filippo Taglioni. Eugène Scribe, not only one of the most influential of opera librettists, but also a leading figure in the history of ballet, wrote the scenario for the danced part, which was fairly long and of artistic merit. In the ballet scenes of the opera, the choreographer, one of the most important exponents of dance in the Romantic period, was already experimenting with the ideas and style that were to characterize the creations of his prime, and of the Romantic ballet as a whole: an exotic fairy tale subject (often pseudo-Medieval or pastoral), and strange love affairs with supernatural beings, in the theatrical, musical and literary taste of the period. Above all, the Romantic ballet focused on the idealization of the ballerina, floating on the tips of her toes, a figure of ethereal lyricism. All the ballets by Filippo Taglioni were designed to display his daughter Marie's luminous artistic personality. The heavily mime-oriented role of the bayadère Zoloé was one of Marie Taglioni's createst triumphs. Gustave III (1833), based on the assassination of King Gustavus of Sweden in 1792, and also choreographed by Filippo Taglioni, was heavily influenced by the impact of the production of Robert le Diable, which saw a particular emphasis placed on sets and stage effects. The grand and historical nature of this opera is powerfully underscored by the two intercalated ballets. The first divertissement comes as early as act 1, and is in the nature of a grand historical pageant based on the life of Gustavus Vasa (1523-60), founder of the present Swedish state, before he gained the crown. There are two dances illustrating the prince's leadership of the populace of Dalecarlia on the campaign to gain freedom from Denmark. …

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Cambridge Scholars Publishing
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Robert Ignatius Letellier (Editor)

Robert Ignatius Letellier has specialized in the music and literature of the Romantic Period. He has studied the work of Giacomo Meyerbeer (a four-volume English edition of his diaries, a collection of critical and biographical studies, a guide to...

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The Ballets of Daniel-François-Esprit Auber
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