Until the momentous year of 1870, the only ballet music to have stood the test of time outside the theatre came from the world of opera. The success of Coppélia at its first Paris Opera performance on 25 May that year, at least as a specimen of what Tchaikovsky was later to define as ‘the pretty, le joli in music’, may have been at odds with both the atmosphere of France’s impending war with Prussia and with the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story on which archivist Charles Nuitter’s scenario was so loosely based, but it deftly exploited the rage for all things mechanical that was sweeping through Paris at the time: the city was home to a veritable industry of manufacturers and vendors of automata: Coppélia is, of course, a doll brought to life for male delectation.
By the time Sylvia was premiered six years later, Delibes’ eye for a narrative and ear for a tune and for translucent orchestration had made him a sensation: the premiere was attended by the great and the good of Europe’s world of ballet, travelling from as far afield as St Petersburg to witness a more modest tale, based on a mythological scenario, but brought to life with no less charm and wit.
The conductors in charge of these recordings had the world of Delibes at their fingertips; masters of light orchestral textures and lightning reflexes. They are classics of the catalogue, and their return will be welcomed by the balletomane audience but also those connoisseurs of the great Eastern European conducting tradition.
“Doráti’s Coppélia [is] a revelation. Never before has a top conductor taken such care over music of this calibre or made it sparkle so freshly… Doráti’s tempi are sometimes faster than those favoured by ballet companies, but
there are unlikely to be any dancers in your sitting room, and he does make Delibes sound a much better composer than usual. There is an excitement about these discs, an air of occasion, that makes them something rather
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.