Coppelia - Royal Ballet – Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

On 8 February 2000 I went to see the Royal Ballet at ROH Covent Garden in Coppelia or La Fille aux Yeux l’Email (The Girl with the Yellow Hair), a ballet in three Acts by Delibes and first performed in Paris in 1870. The choreography and production were by Ninette de Valois after Les Ivanov and Enrico Cecchetti, production re–staged by Anthony Dowell with Christopher Carr and Grant Coyle.

The story of the ballet is based on a fairy story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. The toy maker Coppelius is working in secret to make “living” dolls or various nationalities (Chinese, Scottish, Spanish, Crusader and Saracen Knight) which are introduced in Act II. Swanhilda is engaged to Franz and she is jealous because he throws kisses to a beautiful girl (actually a doll but she is so lifelike that when she appears on Dr Coppelius’ balcony everyone imagines she is a beautiful girl).

To find out if the girl is Coppelius’ daughter Coppelia, Swanhilda (after noticing that Dr Coppelius has dropped his key) sneaks into Coppelius’ workshop where Franz also comes in search of the unknown beauty. Now the secret is discovered. The whole room is full of mechanical dolls, which dance when a button is pressed. Coppelia is one of them. Coppelius appears on the scene and pretends to be friendly to Franz.

Meanwhile, Swanhilda puts on Coppelia’s clothes and pretends – in a series of dances - to be the doll come to life. Coppelius, dazed sends Franz away and Swanhilda changes clothes again and escapes. Swanhilda and Franz are reconciled. The last scene is the inauguration of a new bell, which the Lord of the Manor is giving to the people along with purses of gold to all the betrothed couples and also a purse to Coppelius as he says his dolls have been destroyed.

The marriage of Franz and Coppelia is the crowning event of the occasion. (Petipa’s favourite excuse for a banquet of dances.)

Coppelia had returned to the ROH after 30 years. The set designs are from Osbert Lancaster’s storybook and overall it is a pictured with much period charm of village life if a bit quaint nowadays. But he has a beautiful use of colour – a great visual experience – and his décor for the village square in an almost cut–out style looks like a model Toytown set enlarged. The best-known music numbers are the Mazurka, Waltz and the Czardas (danced for the first time in ballet in Coppelia).

Miyako Yoshida – a charming soubrette, played Swanhilda although her partnership with Carlos Acosta (Franz) lacked emotional affinity. Luke Heydon who brought more humanity than usual to the role-played Dr Coppelius. Leana Palmer played Coppelia.

Matthew Bourne of Adventures in Motion Pictures - Swan Lake fame has Coppelia in his sights for a future re–working!!!


Verinha Ottoni.


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