Ballet comique in 2 acts
Music by Riccardo Drigo
23rd February [O.S. 10th February] 1900
Hermitage Theatre, St Petersburg
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre Première
26th February [O.S. 13th February] 1900
Original 1900 Cast
The Good Fairy
Colombine, the daughter of Cassandre, is in love with Harlequin, but her father has other plans. His choice of groom for Colombine is the rich, old Lèandre, but with Harlequin always close by, Cassandre and his servant Pierrot must to be on guard to keep the lovers apart. However, Pierrot’s wife Pierrette sympathises with the couple and foils her husband’s and his master’s plans. In the end, love triumphs when the Good Fairy helps Harlequin by presenting him with a magic wand that fulfils all his wishes.
When Ivan Vsevolozhsky took up the directorship of the Hermitage Museum in 1899, he commissioned Petipa to create three short ballets to be given for performance at the Museum Theatre and were to be attended by the Imperial Russian Court for the 1900-1901 season. Petipa began crafting scenarios for these ballets, drawing on a variety of differing subjects. Two of the new ballets were Les Ruses d’amour, which was inspired by French rococo and The Seasons, a plotless ballet divertissement that represented the four seasons through Petipa’s classical formula of danced tableaux. The third new ballet was Harlequinade (Les millions d’Arlequin or The Millions of Harlequin), with a libretto based on episodes featuring the stock characters from the Italian commedia dell’arte. Petipa and Vsevolozhsky’s original intentions were to commission Alexander Glazunov to compose the score for Harlequinade, while Riccardo Drigo was to compose the score for The Seasons. However, the two composers, who were close friends, soon developed an affinity for their colleague’s assigned ballet. Glazunov adamantly expressed to Petipa and Vsevolozhsky that the subject of Harlequinade was perfect in every respect for the Italian composer’s talents. In the end, Glazunov composed the scores for The Seasons and Les Ruses d’amour, while Drigo composed the score for Harlequinade.
While working on the score for Harlequinade, Drigo took daily walks through the St Petersburg Summer Garden and along the banks of the Neva River, all the while thinking of his native Italy. During one such walk, Drigo composed the ballet’s famous Sérénade, which included a solo mandolin, and the Berceuse: Variation pour Columbine, which was written especially for the harpist Albert Zabel.
Harlequinade was first presented at the Hermitage Theatre on the 23rd February [O.S. 10th February] 1900. The first performance was given for a private audience that consisted of the entire Imperial Russian Court, including Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna and the Dowager Empress Marie. Private royal theatrical performances of that time were extremely formal affairs where rigid etiquette and protocol were strictly adhered to and as such, applause or cheering were not permitted. Nevertheless, within moments of the final curtain, the typically subdued royal audience erupted into thunderous applause. Petipa and the entire cast received a tumultuous ovation as they took their bows before the curtain. However, much to the surprise of everyone present, Drigo received such a reception that he was mobbed by several princes and Grand Dukes, who tripped over one another in their enthusiasm to congratulate him for his music. Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna was also delighted with the ballet and commanded two additional court performances on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre, the first being given on the 26th February [O.S. 13th February] 1900. Drigo even went as far as to dedicate his score to the Tsarina. Interestingly, this was not accepted by the Imperial Court until a lengthy investigation was completed by the government to assure that Drigo’s life and background were honourable enough to make such a dedication to a Russian Empress. Drigo was indeed found to be of good character and the dedication was graciously accepted.
Petipa staged some of his most memorable choreography for the principal ballerina roles of Colombine and Pierrette, with both roles popular with the great ballerinas of the Imperial stage, including Anna Pavlova, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Vera Trefilova and Julia Sedova. Petipa arranged challenging virtuoso choreography for the character Harlequin, a role that would go on to become one of the most coveted parts for the male dancer in Russia, with many of the Imperial Ballet’s principal male dancers distinguishing themselves in it, including Georgy Kyaksht and Alexander Shiryaev.
Harlequinade was performed on over fifty occasions before the 1917 revolution, after which, it was given sporadically. Petipa’s production was given its final performance at the former Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in 1927 and has not been performed ever since.
Today, Harlequinade is presented in two versions. In 1933, the ballet reappeared on the Russian stage in a new production staged by Fyodor Lopukhov in one act for the Maly/Mikhailovsky Ballet. This Harlequinade was performed many times throughout the 1990s and was even filmed on two occasions – the first was produced by the BBC in 1978 for their programme An Evening with the Russian Ballet. The second was in 1991 when the Maly/Mikhailovsky Ballet gave a rare performance of it at the Mariinsky Theatre. Lopukhov’s version is often performed today by various companies and schools around the world.
In 1965, in honour of the ballet’s 65th anniversary, George Balanchine choreographed and staged his own version of Harlequinade for the New York City Ballet. Petipa’s Imperial version was a ballet Balanchine knew very well, as he had danced it as a student at the Imperial Ballet School. He based his own version on his personal recollections of Petipa’s production. In 1954, Balanchine had choreographed his famous Harlequinade Pas de deux for Maria Tallchief and André Eglevsky and he later added this pas de deux to his staging of the full-length ballet. Balanchine’s Harlequinade had its world première on the 4th February 1965 at the New York State Theater with Edward Villella as Harlequin, Patricia McBride as Columbine, Deni Lamont as Pierrot and Suki Schorer as Pierette. In 1971, Balanchine revived the ballet in an expanded edition with the use of the full score and added new roles for twenty-four adults and twenty-four children. Balanchine’s Harlequinade is still performed by the New York City Ballet today.
Petipa’s Harlequinade was notated in the Stepanov notation method at the turn of the 20th century and is part of the Sergeyev Collection.
The first act of Harlequinade features a scene where Colombine appears on the balcony of her house and is serenaded from the street by Harlequin with his prop mandolin, though a prop guitar was also used in subsequent performances. Since 1917, when Harlequinade was revived, it was sung by a tenor of the company. Drigo’s music for this scene became popular in its own right and was published separately in arrangements for various instruments. The Sérénade would go on to become a staple of salon music during the Edwardian era and the inter-war period and was even issued by music publishers under several alternate titles, including Valse Boston or Serenatina veneziana (Venetian Serenade). The Sérénade was among the pieces in the White Star Line songbook and was played by the musicians of the RMS Titanic.
The Sérénade was later adapted into the song Notturno d’amore by the lyricist S. Focacci in 1922. The Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli made a worldwide hit with his recording of the song in 1926. Notturno d’amore would go on to be recorded by many notable singers, while various adaptations of the Sérénade have been recorded on countless occasions.
“Harlequinade Pas de deux”
The most famous piece associated with Harlequinade today is the so-called Harlequinade Pas de deux. However, contrary to popular belief, this pas de deux has nothing at all to do with Petipa or his version of Harlequinade. This pas de deux is yet another Soviet-era creation that was created after Petipa’s death. It was Pyotr Gusev who created this pas de deux in the 1930s to music pieces by Drigo from various ballets. The music pieces used for this Soviet-era creation are the following:
- Adage – the Pas d’ensemble from Le rendezvous des amoureux from the first act of Harlequinade
- Male variation – Variation for Alexander Shiryaev as Harlequin, composed by Drigo in 1902
- Female variation – a supplemental coda that Drigo composed for Shiryaev’s 1903 revival of Lev Ivanov’s 1887 ballet The Haarlem Tulip or Variation for Olga Preobrazhenskaya as Pierette, composed by Drigo ca. 1905
- Coda – the coda of the Grand Ballabile – La Rose de Bengale from The Talisman