Le Roi Candaule

Grand ballet in four acts and six scenes
Music by Cesare Pugni

World Première
29th October [O.S. 17th October] 1868
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, Saint Petersburg

Original 1868 Cast
King Candaules
Felix Kschessinsky

Queen Nisia
Henriette d’Or

Lev Ivanov

Klavdia Kantsyreva

Première of Petipa’s first revival
6th December [O.S. 24th November] 1891
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre

Original 1891 Cast
King Candaules
Pavel Gerdt

Queen Nisia
Carlotta Brianza

Alexander Gorsky

Varvara Rykhliakova

Première of Petipa’s final revival
22nd April [O.S. 9th April] 1903
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre

Original 1903 Cast
King Candaules
Pavel Gerdt

Queen Nisia
Julia Sedova

Georgy Kyaksht

Nadezhda Petipa

Evdokia Vasilieva

The Three Graces
Tamara Karsavina
Lydia Kyakhst
Elena Poliakova

The arrogant King Candaules, ruler of Lydia, takes the true heir to the throne Gyges into the forest to be torn apart by wild beasts. Gyges, however, survives and that fact is uncovered by the oracle Pythia, who assists heavenly justice and helps the true heir to come to the throne. Queen Nisia, Candaules’s corrupt wife, does not respect divine truth either. After she enchants the courtiers with her dancing, Candaules orders for the statue of the goddess Aphrodite to be removed and places his wife on the pedestal, according her with divine honours. This, however, infuriates the goddess that she ensues a great divine punishment on the king and queen that ultimately results in their respective demises and Gyges is restored to his birth right as the rightful king.

Pavel Gerdt as King Candaules (1891)
Pavel Gerdt as King Candaules (1891)

Le Roi Candaule is one of Petipa’s great exotic ballets and was first staged in 1868. It was produced with the utmost splendour and opulence, achieving a resounding success with its first twenty-two performances and going on to break attendance records at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre. The ballet is based on the history of King Candaules, the ruler of Lydia, an ancient kingdom located in the provinces of İzmir and Manisa in modern day Turkey, in the early years of the 7th century BC. According to the historian Herodotus, Candaules succeeded his father Meles of Lydia as the twenty-second and last king of Lydia’s Heraclid dynasty, for he was later assassinated and succeeded by Gyges.

Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, as She Goes to Bed by William Etty (1830)
Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, as She Goes to Bed by William Etty (1830)

According to Herodotus, Candaules believed his wife (who later account named Nisia) to be the most beautiful woman in the world and bragged about her beauty to others, especially his favourite bodyguard Gyges and even went as far as to persuade Gyges to spy on the Queen so he could see her naked. Gyges refused, not wishing to dishonour the Queen in such a way, but Candaules was insistent and Gyges knew he could not disobey his master, so he hid in the Queen’s bedchamber and watched her undress. However, as he quietly left, the Queen saw him and, realising what had happened, swore revenge. The next day, she summoned Gyges to her chambers and confronted him, offering him two choices – to kill Candaules and seize the throne for himself with the Queen as his wife, or to be executed by her trusted servants. Gyges begged her to relent, but she refused and he chose the first option to assassinate the King. In accordance with the plan, he hid in the Royal bedchamber, waited for the King to fall asleep and stabbed him to death. In the aftermath, Gyges married the Queen and became King of Lydia, but many Lydians did not accept him as their ruler. To prevent a civil war, Gyges offered to have his position approved or rejected by the Delphic Oracle, who approved of him and his dynasty was established.

The libretto for Petipa’s new ballet would be taken from Herodotus’s account, written by Saint-Georges, but was not devoid of differences. Saint-Georges presented a story in which the historical figures crossed paths with mythical figures from Greek mythology, with the inclusion of the goddess Aphrodite, who plays a significant role in the downfall of Candaules and Nisia by means of the familiar mythical storyline of the Goddess of Love becoming jealous when the beauty of a mortal woman is compared to her own. Other mythical figures included in the ballet were the moon goddess Selene and her lover Endymion, who took part in the Grand divertissements of the fourth act.

The ballet’s setting in the ancient Lydian Empire justified the most lavish décor and costumes, with Petipa demonstrating his skill at staging a Ballet à Grand Spectacle. One celebrated passage was the opening Grand Procession of Act 2, scene 1 in which King Candaules and Gyges made their entrance in a golden chariot drawn by two white horses, followed by Queen Nisia, who made her entrance atop an elaborately decorated elephant, and then followed a massive procession of two hundred participants (Petipa would later stage a similar Grand Procession in La Bayadère). The ballet’s pièce de résistance was Petipa’s Pas d’Aphrodite (Pas de Vénus) and the final Grand Pas known as the Grand Pas Lydian, both of which were hailed unanimously by the critics and balletomanes as master works of classical choreography. These pieces were often extracted from the full-length work to be performed independently at gala performances.

Carlotta Brianza as Queen Nisia (1891)
Carlotta Brianza as Queen Nisia (1891)

Petipa revived Le Roi Candaule in 1891 for the Italian Prima Ballerina Carlotta Brianza. For this revival, Petipa created a wonderful pas called Le Berceau du Papillon (The Cradle of the Butterfly). Petipa revived the ballet for the final time in 1903 for the Prima Ballerina Julia Sedova, a pupil of Enrico Cecchetti. For his final revival, he added more new material, all set to new music composed and adapted by Riccardo Drigo from Pugni’s original score. For the celebrated Pas d’Aphrodite (Pas de Vénus), Petipa added a new Adagio and a new dance for Cupid, Nymphs and Satyrs. He also added new variations to Drigo’s music for the Pas de trois of the Three Graces and completely re-choreographed the scene The Baths of Queen Nisia of the third act. Another celebrated passage was the Grand Pas known as the Pas de Diane, which Petipa presented a new version of in 1903. Long before the ballet was notated, Petipa had made his own sketches on paper, of which those for the Grand Pas Lydien and the Danse des Bacchantes survive.

In 1925, Le Roi Candaule received one more revival by the dancer and ballet master, Leonid Leontiev. In this revival, all the scenes containing god-like interferences and references were abolished in order to meet Soviet-approved rules for the theatre. Devoid of its essence, the dancers in the wings whispered that the ballet’s name was now no longer Tsar Kandavl (the Russian title), but ‘Tsar Scandal.’

Le Roi Candaule was performed for the final time on the 2nd September 1925 and has not been performed ever since. The ballet was notated in the Stepanov notation method between 1903 and 1904 and is part of the Sergeyev Collection.

Unidentified ballerina as an Amazon (1891)
Unidentified ballerina as an Amazon (1891)

Did you know?

  • When the Prima Ballerina, Ekaterina Vazem first danced the role of Queen Nisia, she struggled with a certain pas that had been made famous by Henriette d’Or (the first Queen Nisia). Finding this pas aesthetically non-pleasing, Vazem asked Petipa if he would substitute it for something else, but Petipa advised her to dance the pas, telling her that if she did not dance iteveryone would think she could not dance it. She took his advice and in the end, she mastered the pas with great success.
  • One account tells of the scene in the first act where King Candaules meets the oracle, Pythia. The account says that the mime scene was considered too bizarre and difficult and that at one point, Pythia waved her arms like flying owls to emit misfortune.
  • In 1902, Petipa became so enamoured with the dancing of three young girls who had graduated from the Imperial Ballet School into the company that he restaged the Pas de trois of the Three Graces especially to display their talents in the important 1903 revival. Two of them were Lydia Kyaksht, the younger sister of the great premier danseur Georgy Kyaksht, and Tamara Karsavina, who later gained international fame as Sergei Diaghilev’s Prima Ballerina.
  • The role of the Satyr in the Pas de Diane was the final role that George Balanchine danced in Russia. He performed the role in a gala performance at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1922 with Elsa Vill as Diana and Vladelin Semenov as Endymion.
  • Although Le Roi Candaule has not been performed since 1928, three music numbers that were composed for the ballet by Drigo are used today in various pieces:
    • At one point, Drigo composed a new waltz for Maria Gorshenkova. Today, this waltz is used by Yuri Burlaka in his Rose Pas de quatre as a waltz for the four goddesses.
    • A solo cello variation that Drigo composed for Maria Gorshenkova was later interpolated into The Vestal as a variation for Maria Anderson. This variation became known as “L’amour” and today, it is traditionally performed in the Paquita Grand Pas Classique.
    • A harp variation that Drigo composed for Anna Pavlova’s performance as Queen Nisia is traditionally performed today in the Paquita Grand Pas Classique. It is taken from the celebrated scene The Baths of Queen Nisia, in which Nisia dances to the sound of her slave’s harp. This was one of Pavlova’s favourite variations and she performed it many times on tour with her company.

Variation for Anna Pavlova as Queen Nisia, composed by Drigo (1903)

Eugenia Sokolova as Diana in the Pas de Diane (1891)
Eugenia Sokolova as Diana in the Pas de Diane (1891)

Pas de Diane (Les Aventures Amorouse de Diane)

The Pas de Diane, also known as Les Aventures Amorouse de Diane (The Amorous Adventures of Diana), is known today as the Diane et Actéon Pas de deux. It is the only piece from Le Roi Candaule that is still performed today and has an extremely complicated history. It has been popularly believed for many years that Petipa choreographed this pas for his 1886 revival of La Esmeralda. That, however, is not the case as this pas is actually from the fourth act of Le Roi Candaule and is one of the ballet’s most famous divertissements. It was first introduced to the West in 1910 by Anna Pavlova when she performed it at the Palace Theatre in London with Mikhail Mordkin. Pavlova went onto dance the Pas de Diane many times with her company, as it was one of her favourite divertissements and was one of her earliest soloist roles with the Imperial Ballet when she first danced it ca. 1900.

Diana, Endymion and the Satyr by Karl Bryullov (1849). It is widely believed that this was the painting that inspired Petipa to choreograph the Pas de Diane
Diana, Endymion and the Satyr by Karl Bryullov (1849). It is widely believed that this was the painting that inspired Petipa to choreograph the Pas de Diane

Petipa originally choreographed this pas as a Pas de trois for the goddess Diana, the shepherd Endymion and a satyr. The pas is believed to have been based on a painting by the Russian painter, Karl Bryullov, who is most famous for his painting The Last Day of Pompeii. The original scheme for the pas is that it reflects the myth of the passion between Diana and Endymion, with the two of them dancing with a lustful satyr, who vies for Diana’s affections.

"Diana of Versailles" - Statue of Diana/Artemis, the Olympian Goddess of the Hunt, Virginity and Childbirth at the Palace of Versailles
“Diana of Versailles” – statue of Artemis/Diana, the Olympian Goddess of the Hunt, Virginity and Childbirth at the Palace of Versailles

However, Petipa’s original scheme for the Pas de Diane is very mythologically inaccurate, since his intention was to create a pas with a Greek subject about the Goddess of the Moon. However, Diana was not a Greek goddess, but a Roman goddess (her Greek counterpart was Artemis), nor was she the Goddess of the Moon and romantically involved with Endymion. The Greek Goddess of the Moon was Selene (Luna in Roman mythology) and it was Selene who was in love with Endymion. Therefore, the goddess featured in this pas should have been Selene, not Diana, and the pas should perhaps have been called the Pas de Selene, or Les Aventures Amorouse de Selene, with it reflecting the passionate love of Selene and Endymion. This inaccuracy is also present in Léo Delibes’ ballet Sylvia and is due to the revival of Greek and Roman mythology in classical times.

Statue of Selene/Luna, the Titan Goddess of the Moon at the Pio Clementino Museum, Vatican City
Statue of Selene/Luna, the Titan Goddess of the Moon at the Pio Clementino Museum, Vatican City

The myth of Selene and Endymion is one of mythology’s most famous love stories. Endymion was a very handsome, young shepherd and one night, when Selene rode out into the sky in her chariot, she saw Endymion asleep under a tree and fell madly in love with him. He reciprocated her love, but he was mortal, which meant he would eventually grow old and die, therefore, it was Endymion’s greatest wish was to have eternal youth. Selene went to Zeus and asked him to grant her beloved’s wish. Zeus agreed and granted his wish by putting Endymion into an eternal sleep, thus Endymion became immortal, never grew old and never died. Selene never lost him and she visited him every night in his dreams as he slept in a cave on Mount Latmos. From the love between Selene and Endymion, fifty daughters were born, all of whom are equated with the fifty lunar months of the Olympiad.

Selene and Endymion by Erasmus Quellin (1897)

Diana/Artemis was a virgin goddess and had many suitors and admirers, but the only one to win her heart was the Titan Orion. The son of Neptune and the gorgon, Euryale, Orion was known for his handsome looks and prodigious strength. In the famous version of the myth as told by Istros, Orion became Diana’s hunting companion and the two fell in love, but the relationship was never consummated. Diana even considered marrying Orion, much to the dismay of her twin brother, Apollo, who had grown jealous of his sister’s relationship with the Titan. Apollo sought to do away with Orion and one day, he challenged Diana to an archery challenge, in which he persuaded her to hit a large rock in the middle of the sea. Being the proud archer that she was, Diana accepted the challenge, unaware that the rock in the sea was actually Orion swimming. As soon as Diana released her arrow, she succeeded in striking Orion in the head, killing him instantly. His body was later washed up on the nearest shore. Diana later discovered Apollo’s deception and was left heartbroken by Orion’s death. At her request, Jupiter sent her beloved to the heavens, where he became a constellation.

Diane_auprès_du_cadavre_d'Orion (1)
Diana next to the Corpse of Orion by Daniel Seiter (1685)

The version of the Pas de Diane widely known today was choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova in 1935 when she staged a new production of La Esmeralda at the Kirov/Mariinsky Theatre for the ballerina Tatyana Vecheslova. For this revival, Vaganova resurrected the Pas de Diane and inserted it into the second act as a show-piece for the young Galina Ulanova and Vakhtang Chabukiani. She rechristened the Pas de Diane as the Diane et Actéon Pas de deux, changed the lead male role to the hunter Actaeon and removed the role of the Satyr. It is suspected that it was Vaganova who added the small corps de ballet of Diana’s nymphs, but that has yet to be confirmed. Vaganova also added a new variation for Diana, which was originally composed by Riccardo Drigo as a new variation for the Grand Pas des fleurs in the second act of La Esmeralda and utilised the original music for Diana’s variation as a waltz for the twelve nymphs. The choreography for Actaeon that is still danced today is by Chabukiani.

Diana and Actaeon by Titan (1558)
Diana and Actaeon by Titian (1558)

However, Vaganova’s changing of the scheme, especially the changing of the male character to Actaeon, is both very confusing and bizarre. Actaeon was never romantically involved with Diana, but he did have one association with her and the myth of their encounter is one of the most famous of Greek and Roman myths. Actaeon was a very proficient hunter, who had been trained in the art of Chiron, the wise centaur. One day, while out hunting, he entered the part of the forest that was sacred to Diana and stumbled upon her and her nymphs as they were bathing naked. Diana was so furious with his insolence that she punished Actaeon by transforming him into a stag and he was subsequently hunted down and killed by his own hunting dogs, who did not recognise him as their master.

The Death of Actaeon by Titan (1559)
The Death of Actaeon by Titian (1559)

Related pages



  • Beaumont, Cyril (1937) Complete Book of Ballets. London, UK: Putnam
  • Pritchard, Jane with Hamilton, Caroline (2012) Anna Pavlova: Twentieth-Century Ballerina. London, UK: Booth-Clibborn Editions
  • Wiley, Roland John (2007) A Century of Russian Ballet. Alton, Hampshire, UK: Dance Books Ltd

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.