Ballet comique in 3 acts
Music by Peter Ludwig Hertel
1st July 1789
Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux
Choreography by Jean Daubervaul
Original 1789 Cast
Francois Le Riche
St Petersburg Première
2nd October [O.S. 20th September] 1818
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre
Choreography by Charles Didelot
Première of Jean-Pierre Aumer’s staging
17th November 1828
Salle Le Peletier, Paris
Music by Ferdinand Hérold
Original 1828 Cast
Première of Paul Taglioni’s staging
7th November 1864
Königliches Opernhaus, Berlin
Music by Peter Ludwig Hertel
Première of Petipa and Ivanov’s revival
28th December [O.S. 16th December] 1885
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre
Music by Peter Ludwig Hertel
Original 1885 Cast
In the French countryside, the rich farm owner, Widow Simone arranges with the rich farmer, Thomas for her daughter, Lise to marry his idiotic son, Alain. However, Lise is in love with the penniless farmer, Colas and the young couple must battle through all of Widow Simone’s obstacles so they can marry.
La Fille mal gardée is the oldest of full length ballets and plays a vital role in the history of ballet’s evolution as an art form.
The 18th century saw a distinct revolution in ballet following the ballet de cour of the court of King Louis XIV. Ballet had only been a court entertainment that represented and glorified the Sovereign, but now, critics were demanding for serious reform and for an art form that appealed to the public. These reforms touched everything from technique to stage productions; technique became all the more physically demanding and the art form itself became professionalised. Ballet became an independent art form that people could take up as a career, but due to the evolution in technique, anyone who wanted to became a professional ballet dancer had to take up years of vigorous training at the newly-reformed danse d’ecole. The ballet de cour, grands ballets and divertissements of the Royal Court were replaced with the ballet d’action – a dramaturgically ballet with action and concept. The monarchical glory and grandeur were dropped from the art form to make way for human conflicts, sentiments and souls. The overloaded costumes and wigs disappeared and were replaced with lighter costumes that were easier and freer to dance in.
On the 1st July 1789, Jean Daubervaul presented a new ballet entitled La Fille mal gardée, the first ballet and ballet d’action that brought together all of the requirements for a narrative ballet with a clear subject and characters that departed completely from the ballet de cour. The plot for the new ballet was based on Pierre Antoine Baudouin’s painting Le réprimande/Une jeune fille querellée par sa mère, which portrays a mother scolding her daughter for neglecting her chores, unaware that the girl’s lover is hiding in the background, scurrying up the stairs into the loft. The première performance was given at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, under the title Le ballet de la paille, ou Il n’est qu’un pas du mal au bien (The Ballet of the Straw, or There is Only One Step from Bad to Good) and was a great success. In regards to the music, the first production of La Fille mal gardée did not have its own score, since at the time, ballet scores did not exist. The original score of La Fille mal gardée was a pastiche of various music numbers and arrangements of opera airs, which was the standard score for ballet throughout the late 18th century and early 19th century.
Following its successful première in Bordeaux, La Fille mal gardée was presented in various different stagings and revivals throughout the late 18th century and the 19th century. The first revival was staged in London for the Ballet of the King’s Pantheon Theatre by Daubervaul and this was the staging that saw the ballet renamed as La Fille mal gardée. The ballet made its début at the Paris Opéra in 1803 in a revival of Daubervaul’s version staged by Eugène Hus, the creator of the role of Colas. La Fille mal gardée made its début in Russia when it was staged in Moscow by Ballet Master, Giuseppe Solomoni for the Petrovsky Theatre in 1800. This production was later revived in 1808 by Solomoni’s successor Jean Lamiral with both productions using the original 1789 pastiche score. The ballet was later staged in St Petersburg for the first time in 1818 by Daubervaul’s student, the renowned ballet master Charles Didelot, under the title La Précaution inutile, ou Lise et Colin (Vain Precaution, or Lise and Colin). Another of Daubervaul’s students, Jean-Pierre Aumer revived Hus’s revival of La Fille mal gardée many times throughout his career at the Paris Opéra and introduced the ballet to Vienna in 1809.
In 1828, Aumer staged a new version of La Fille mal gardée to a new score by French composer, Ferdinand Hérold, which was an adaptation of the 1789 pastiche score. A new production of the Aumer/Hérold version of La Fille mal gardée was staged in Russia at the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow by Ballet Master Irakly Nikitin in 1845. In 1854, Jules Perrot staged his own version of Aumer’s La Fille mal gardée for the St Petersburg Imperial Ballet, with Cesare Pugni adding new music numbers. Perrot’s staging of La Fille mal gardée was performed for the final time in 1880 for the benefit performance of Pavel Gerdt.
In 1864, Paul Taglioni, uncle of Marie Taglioni, presented a brand new version of La Fille mal gardée for the Court Opera Ballet of the Königliches Opernhaus in Berlin, where he was engaged as Ballet Master. This new staging was set to a completely new score by German composer, Peter Ludwig Hertel, who was the resident composer of the Königliches Opernhaus at the time. Taglioni and Hertel’s La Fille mal gardée premièred on the 7th November 1864, under the title Das schlecht bewachte Mädchen (The Badly Guarded Girl), and was a renowned success.
In 1876, the great Italian Prima Ballerina Virginia Zucchi made her début in Taglioni and Hertel’s La Fille mal gardée in Berlin during her tours across Europe. In 1885, the ballerina was invited on the request of Tsar Alexander III to dance with the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg and for her Imperial Theatre début, Zucchi chose to dance in the Taglioni/Hertel version of La Fille mal gardée. This request required Ivan Vsevolozhsky to pay an expensive price to bring Hertel’s score from Berlin. This new staging of La Fille mal gardée saw the first collaboration between Petipa and Lev Ivanov on the staging of a new full length production. Zucchi also assisted in the staging by introducing some of the dances she had known from Taglioni’s production.
Petipa and Ivanov’s revival of La Fille mal gardée was premièred on the 28th December [O.S. 16th December] 1885, under the traditional Russian title La Précaution inutile (Vain Precaution), at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, which had recently become the Imperial Ballet’s new home. The ballet was a huge success, especially due to the performance of Zucchi. Virginia Zucchi’s performances as Lise received huge praise, becoming legendary, and she was especially celebrated for her performances of the Pas de ruban of the first act and the famous mime scene “When I’m Married” of the third act. In fact, contemporary accounts state that her performance of the “When I’m Married” mime scene was so moving that she brought the audience to tears. Following Zucchi’s departure from Russia in 1887, Ivanov staged an abridged version of La Fille mal gardée on two occasions – at the Imperial Theatre of Krasnoe Selo in the summer of 1888 and at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre that same year. In 1894, he revived the full-length ballet for the visiting German Prima Ballerina Hedwige Hantenbürg, after which the ballet found a permanent place in the Imperial Ballet repertoire. The role of Lise became a favourite among many of the Imperial Ballet’s great ballerinas, including Anna Pavlova, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Tamara Karsavina and Matilda Kschessinskaya.
Petipa and Ivanov’s La Fille mal gardée was performed for the final time by the Imperial Ballet on the 10th October [O.S. 27th September] 1917, one month prior to the Russian Revolution. The ballet was notated in the Stepanov notation method between 1903 and 1906 and is part of the Sergeyev Collection. In 2015, Sergei Vikharev mounted a reconstruction of the Petipa/Ivanov revival of La Fille mal gardée for the State Ballet of Ekaterinburg. The reconstruction premièred on the 15th May 2015 at the Ekaterinburg State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre.
In 1903, Alexander Gorsky staged his own revival of La Fille mal gardée for the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Ballet that was based on Petipa and Ivanov’s staging. For his production, Gorsky used many additional music numbers with Hertel’s score, including pieces by Riccardo Drigo, Léo Delibes, Cesare Pugni, Ludwig Minkus and Anton Rubenstein. There was even one occasion when he staged the entire third act to music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Gorsky’s revival provided a foundation for revivals of La Fille mal gardée throughout the Soviet era. The first Soviet staging of the ballet was by the choreographers Asaf Messerer and Igor Moiseyev for the Bolshoi Ballet in 1930, which included a new act entitled The Wedding of Lise and Colas to an arrangement of music taken from Mikhail Glinka’s opera Orpheus. However, this production was not a success and was dropped from the Bolshoi repertoire two years later when a revival of the production failed to bring any success. The Bolshoi Ballet made another case for La Fille mal gardée when Leonid Lavrovsky staged a new version in 1937. For this production, Lavrovsky commissioned the composer Pavel Feldt to create a new score based on the traditional music of Hertel, which included all of the interpolated music the score acquired via Gorsky’s revival. However, just like Messerer and Moiseyev’s staging, Lavrovsky’s production was not successful and was dropped from the Bolshoi repertoire after only eleven performances. Before Vikharev’s reconstruction, Russia had previously seen a production of La Fille mal gardée that used Hertel’s music when the former Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet director, Oleg Vinogradov staged a new production for the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet in 1989. This production was largely based on the Petipa/Ivanov staging and Gorsky’s 1903 revival and was a huge success. However, the production was dropped from the Mariinsky repertoire shortly after Vinogradov’s dismissal from the company in 1995.
Petipa and Ivanov’s La Fille mal gardée was first introduced to the West by Anna Pavlova when she danced in an abridgement of the full-length ballet in London in 1912. Pavlova later went onto dance the ballet many times across the world with her company. Many other versions based on the Petipa/Ivanov and Gorsky productions were staged in the West throughout the 20th century.
Today, the most famous version of La Fille mal gardée is Sir Frederick Ashton’s production, choreographed and staged for the Royal Ballet in 1960. Ashton was first introduced to La Fille mal gardée by Tamara Karsavina, who also taught him the When I’m Married mime scene. The music for Ashton’s production is the original 1789 pastiche score that was resurrected by dance historian, Ivor Guest and arranged by Sir John Lanchberry. The score also uses the famous Clog Dance from Hertel’s score and a pas de deux to arrangements of airs from Donizetti’s opera L’elisir d’amore that was added for the great Austrian ballerina Fanny Elssler when she made her début as Lise at the Paris Opéra in 1837. Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée premièred on the 28th January 1960 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with Nadia Nerina as Lise, David Blair as Colas and Alexander Grant as Alain. The ballet was a huge success and today, it remains one of the most popular members of the repertoires of various companies across the world.
The Chicken Incident of 1905
La Fille mal gardée was a favourite ballet of Matilda Kschessinskaya, so much so that for a number of years, she refused to allow other ballerinas to dance the role of Lise. Eventually, however, her control over the role began to disintegrate and, much to her dismay, it was given to her rival, Olga Preobrazhenskaya in 1905. Kschessinskaya would allegedly not let this matter go lightly and concocted a plan to sabotage Preobrazhenskaya’s début performance. One feature of the Petipa/Ivanov staging of La Fille mal gardée was the use of real chickens in a chicken coop as part of the décor of the farmyard scene in the first act. On the night of Preobrazhenskaya’s début as Lise, Kschessinskaya bribed a stagehand to let the doors of the chicken coop open and as soon as the music for Preobrazhenskaya’s variation in the Pas de ruban started, the chickens went flying everywhere across the stage – according to the story. Some of the chickens even flew into the orchestra pit and landed on some of the orchestra members. But if this was a scheme, it backfired, for Preobrazhenskaya danced her variation uninterrupted from start to finish as if nothing had even happened and she received a storm of applause from the audience, much to Kschessinskaya’s chagrin.
“La Fille mal gardée Pas de deux”
One very famous passage that is associated today with the Imperial Ballet production of La Fille mal gardée is the so-called La Fille mal gardée Pas de deux, which is a popular member of the gala and competition circuit. However, contrary to popular belief, this pas de deux was not created by Petipa or Ivanov. It was, in fact, created by Gorksy for his 1903 revival, though the version that is danced today is a Soviet revival of Gorsky’s original version, possibly by Pyotr Gusev from the 1930s. The music numbers that are used are by Hertel, Riccardo Drigo and Johann Armsheimer:
- Adage – the only piece from Hertel’s score for La Fille mal gardée
- Male variation – the Variation of the Genie of the Forest from The Enchanted Forest
- Female variation – a supplemental coda composed by Drigo for Alexander Shiryaev’s 1903 revival of Ivanov’s 1887 ballet The Haarlem Tulip
- Coda – a general gallop by Armsheimer from Petipa’s 1896 ballet The Calvary Halt
- Guest, Ivor (1960) La Fille mal gardée: History of the Ballet. The Dancing Times Ltd
- Guest, Ivor and Lanchbery, John. The Score of La Fille mal gardée. Published in Theatre Research, Vol. III, No. 3, 1961
- Guest, Ivor (1977) The Divine Virgina: A Biography of Virginia Zucchi. New York, US: Marcel Dekker, Inc.
- Kschessinskaya, Matilda, H.S.H. The Princess Romanovsky-Krassinsky (1960) Dancing in Petersburg: the Memoirs of Mathilde Kschessinskaya. Alton, Hampshire: Dance Books Ltd
- Pritchard, Jane with Hamilton, Caroline (2012) Anna Pavlova: Twentieth-Century Ballerina. London, UK: Booth-Clibborn Editions
- Guest, Ivor. CD Liner Notes. Ferdinand Hérold. La Fille mal gardée – Excerpts. John Lanchbery Cond. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. CD Decca 430,196–2
- Mariinsky Ballet: Theatre Program for La Fille mal gardée. Mariinsky Theatre, January 1994.
- Royal Ballet: Theatre Program for La Fille mal gardée. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, February 1978 and January 1998.