Roxana, the Beauty of Montenegro

Ballet fantastique in four acts
Music by Ludwig Minkus

World Première
11th February [O.S. 29th January] 1878
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, Saint Petersburg

Original 1878 Cast
Roxana
Eugenia Sokolova

Plot
A young Turk, living in Montenegro, is in love with the beautiful Roxana, but she does not reciprocate his passion. In revenge, the Turk spreads a rumour that Roxana is enchanted and the cause of the natural tragedies since she is held in thrall to her dead mother, a vampire butterfly. A Montenegrin youth saves her from the fury of the crowd, but later discovers that the spell is true. He follows Roxana to a fantastic wood to find her surrounded by ghostly wilis, who lose their power at daybreak. He uses his knowledge to save her. The vampire butterfly is killed and he and Roxana are married.

Scenes from the ballet, in an engraving by Domentovsky after a drawing by Gustav Broling (1878)
Scenes from the ballet, in an engraving by Domentovsky after a drawing by Gustav Broling (1878)

History
Roxana, the Beauty on Montenegro was inspired by contemporary troubles in the Balkans. When the ballet premièred on the 11th February [O.S. 29th January] 1878 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, it proved to be a great success, with Eugenia Sokolova receiving critical acclaim for her performance as Roxana and Tsar Alexander II praising Petipa’s work. The most famous number from Minkus’s score was the March Kranli, which was performed at a concert in Saint Petersburg in March 1878 at the benefit for the Russians soldiers wounded in the war with Turkey. On the 5th March, the Treaty of San Stefano was signed outside Constantinople and all hostilities were ended, reducing Ottoman power and granting independence to Romania, Serbia and Montenegro. Subsequently, the national theme of the ballet tuned into a highly emotional Slavic frame of mind.

Marie Petipa as Zoya, Roxana's friend (1878)
Marie Petipa as Zoya, Roxana’s friends (1878)

 

Sources

  • Letellier, Robert Ignatius (2008) The Ballets of Ludwig MinkusCambridge Scholars Publishing