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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Coppélia is a sentimental comic ballet with original choreography by Arthur Saint-Léon to a ballet libretto by Saint-Léon and Charles Nuittier and music by Léo Delibes. It was based upon a macabre story by E.T.A. Hoffmann entitled "The Sandman", published in 1816. The ballet premiered May 25, 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial de l´Opéra, with Giuseppina Bozzachi in the title role. Its first flush of success was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris, but eventually it became the most-performed ballet at the Opera Garnier.

The team of Saint-Léon and Nuittier had a previous success with the ballet La Source (1860), for which Délibes had composed the music jointly with Ludwig Minkus. A later version was rechoreographed for the New York City Ballet by George Balanchine and one of his many protege (and former wives) Alexandra Danilova, to much success.

The story of Coppélia concerns a mysterious and faintly diabolical inventor, Doctor Coppélius who has made a life-size dancing doll. It is so life-like that Franz, a village swain is infatuated with it, setting aside his true heart's desire, Swanilde, who in Act II shows him his folly, by dressing as the doll and pretending to come to life. The festive wedding-day divertissements in the village square that occupy Act III are often deleted in modern danced versions, though one of the entrées was the first czardas presented on a ballet stage. If Mary Shelley's Frankenstein represents the dark side of the theme of scientist as creator of life, then Coppelia is the light side. If Giselle is a tragedy set in a peasant village, then Coppélia is a comedy in the same setting. The part of Franz was danced en travestie, a convention that pleased the male members of the Jockey-Club de Paris and was retained in Paris until after World War II.

Giuseppina Bozzacchi, the original Coppélia, a young student aged only sixteen, was expected to have a great career ahead of her, but she contracted cholera during the siege of Paris and died on her seventeenth birthday.

Some influence on this story comes from travelling shows of the late 18th and early 19th centuries starring mechanical automatons. This field of entertainment has been under-documented, but a recent survey of the field is contained in The Mechanical Turk by Tom Standage (2002). These shows were later to also influence Charles Babbage in his invention of the difference engine.

A variation of the Coppelia story is contained in Jacques Offenbach's opera, The Tales of Hoffmann, a fictional work about the same Hoffmann who wrote the story that inspired Coppelia. The opera consists of a prologue, three fantastic tales in which Hoffmann is a participant, and an epilogue. In the first story, based on Der Sandmann, Hoffmann falls in love with a mechanical doll, Olympia, but in this case, the story takes on a melancholy tinge as the doll breaks apart.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Coppélia" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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