Ballet in three acts and five scenes
Music by Cesare Pugni
Libretto by Marius Petipa
Décor by Andrei Roller, Heinrich Wagner and S. Gvalio
Costumes by Adolf Charlemagne
22nd January [O.S. 10th January] 1866
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, Saint Petersburg
Original 1866 Cast
The son of the exalted Count Ernest is in love with Florida, the daughter of the Ballet Master Coretti, but their difference in social status makes it impossible for them to marry. Florida decides to take desperate measures. Dressing as a naval officer, she attends a ball being given at the Count’s home and appears before her beloved’s parents in the full brilliance of her talent. Captivated by Florida’s grace and beauty, the Count and Countess give their consent to their son marrying the dancer.
For the 1865-66 season, Petipa was planning a new ballet that would be called The Alpine Queen and would be especially created for his wife Maria. However, for that same season, the final opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer L’Africaine was making its Saint Petersburg première and costs for the new opera production proved expensive, making it impossible for the Imperial Theatres to afford staging two new elaborate productions. Therefore, Petipa was forced to abandon The Alpine Queen and had to quickly plan another new ballet that would be far less elaborate. The end result was a new three-act ballet composed by Cesare Pugni entitled Florida.
According to Rappaport, Florida was “less a ballet than a protracted divertissement, it consisted of new and recycled dance numbers and mime scenes, held together by a slender dramatic thread, although it did have the distinction of using electric lighting in the final act.” (M. Rappaport, “Teatral’naia letopis”, Syn otechestva, 22nd January 1866 p. 148) The “slender dramatic thread” that held the ballet together was a love story involving two lovers of different social statuses that prevent them from marrying – one is a wealthy count and honourable sea captain and the other is a young dancer with no title or noble blood in her veins. Although the ballet was another showcase for Maria Surovchshikova-Petipa, it also gave a scope to other artists, including one of the Imperial Theatre’s future stars. Florida was the ballet in which Pavel Gerdt performed his first featured role when he danced a number called La Couronne de roses with Madaeva. Information on this dance number is quite scarce, but it was probably a classical dance in a village setting, a parallel to the Peasant Pas de deux from Giselle.
Two numbers performed by Maria were The Little Muzhik, in which Florida, dressed as a sailor, performs for Count Ernest’s parents in order to win them over. This dance inspired Nekrasov, who attended the première to write his poem Ballet. The other number was a mime scene entitled ‘”La Tragedia” à la Rachelle’, which was inspired by the great French tragedienne Rachelle. The final act was the celebration for the wedding of Florida and Count Ernest, in which the corps de ballet performed a fantasical, unbridled Phrygian Grand pas, in which they wore red Phrygian bonnets and waved red and white scarves. However, the reason for including a Phrygian dance is questionable since there was nothing else in the ballet that had any connections to the ancient kingdom of Phrygia, unless perhaps it was a reference to Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine.
Florida premièred on the 1st February [O.S. 20th January] 1866 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre. Reaction to the new ballet, however, was mixed at best since the critics agreed that while many of the dances were attractive, the ballet as a whole “suffered from an embarrassment of riches, resembling an album in which Miss Petipa appears in the most varied manifestations” (Otmetki [Notes], Golos, 22nd January 1866, p. 3). The unsuccessful Florida was perhaps another nail in the coffin for the fate of Maria Surovchshikova-Petipa’s career, since her technique and her place as Petipa’s muse were continuing to decline.
- Meisner, Nadine (2019) Marius Petipa, The Emperor’s Ballet Master. New York City, US: Oxford University Press
Photos and images: © Dansmuseet, Stockholm © Большой театр России © Victoria and Albert Museum, London © Государственный академический Мариинский театр © CNCS/Pascal François © Bibliothèque nationale de France © Musée l’Opéra © Colette Masson/Roger-Viollet © АРБ имени А. Я. Вагановой © Михаил Логвинов © Михайловский театр, фотограф Стас Левшин. Партнёры проекта: СПбГБУК «Санкт-Петербургская государственная Театральная библиотека». ФГБОУВО «Академия русского балета имени А. Я. Вагановой» СПбГБУК «Михайловский театр». Михаил Логвинов, фотограф. Martine Kahane.