Grand Ballet in two acts
Music by Johann Strauss II, Léo Delibes, Daniel Auber, Jules Massenet & Anton Rubinstein, in a pastiche adapted by Albert Vizentini
26th February [O.S. 14th February] 1886
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg
Original 1886 Cast
Première of Petipa’s first revival
12th December [O.S. 30th November] 1887
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre
Original 1887 Cast
Première of Petipa’s second revival
26th February [O.S. 13th February] 1900
Imperial Theatre of the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg
Original 1900 Cast
King Louis XIV of France
The Count of Montignac
After an audience with the King, the Count is supposed to present his son at court. As he only has four daughters, he decides to pretend Marquino, the lover of the servant girl Pepita, is his son. Two hidalgos are courting the Count’s daughters, who give them a cool response, as they are already in love with others. After discovering these young men have sneaked into the house, the Countess takes her daughters off to a convent. Led by Pepita, the young men use cunning to carry the girls away, but Marquino is caught by the police. A duke helps the young avoid punishment for the abduction. The King forgives everyone on condition that the Count agrees all four weddings and presents his daughters’ husbands, his sons-in-law, to him. The knavish Marquino gets the hand of Pepita and a dowry.
The King’s Command was created by Petipa for the benefit performance of Virginia Zucchi. Created in less than a fortnight, the ballet was originally a four-act piece and was set to a pastiche score arranged by Albert Vizentini that included the music of Johann Strauss II, Daniel Auber, Jules Massenet, Anton Rubenstein and Léo Delibes. The plot was based on that of Delibes’s opéra comique Le Roi l’a dit, but with the setting and time period changed from the France of King Louis XIV to the Spain of King Felipe II. This enabled to showcase his knowledge of Spanish dance with the addition of historical dances, such as gavottes, chaconnes and pavanes.
As explained by Ivor Guest, the character of Pepita, the role created for Zucchi, was envisioned as a kind of female Figaro, full of vivacity, high spirits and witty ingenuity, all of which should have suited Zucchi’s personal character and interpretative talent perfectly. Unfortunately, however, the character was not fully developed, as the opportunities to build up the character were too few and too scattered. Guest gives an example of one such moment of this lack of development in more detail:
There an amusing moment was in the first act when she [Pepita] brings her sweetheart out from under a table where he has been hiding, there was an opportunity to express desire when he leaves to go to court with his master, and an interesting transition from grief to joy when he feigns death and suddenly springs to life before her, but these incidents were somewhat submerged by all the divertissements and the rather arid period dances.
The King’s Command was certainly not one of Petipa’s most inventive ballets and when it premièred on the 26th February [O.S. 14th February] 1886, it was a failure, with one of its main problems being the lack of interest in the ballerina role described by Guest. However, Petipa’s choreography was not criticised; in fact, it played a significant role in the development of pointe work of the Italian School, for which it revealed a prompt and positive reaction. For the first time, several Russian dancers were allowed to attempt bravura feats of this order; at the time, pointe work was not as developed in Russia as it was in Italy. Zucchi, of course, showcased difficult pointe work, including a multiple pirouette taken slowly en pointe in a piece called the pas de paon.
After its disappointing première, Petipa revived The King’s Command the following year for Zucchi. With several revisions, this revival was an improvement from the original version, but the ballet still lacked dramatic passages and love scenes, the kind at which Zucchi excelled. It was in the dancing that the role of Pepita was strengthened, especially with the additions of two new pas de deux. One was entitled La Gallarda and the second was entitled Le Pêcheur et le Perle (The Fisherman and the Pearl).
In 1900, Petipa staged his second and final revival of The King’s Command, in which he revised the entire ballet. The ballet was abridged and shortened from four acts to two acts, with Riccardo Drigo revising Vizentini’s pastiche score, and was renamed The Pupils of Dupré. Many of the characters’ names were also changed; Pepita was changed to Violette and Marquino was became Vestris. The setting and time period was also transposed to 18th century France. The Pupils of Dupré was premièred on the 26th February [O.S. 13th February] 1900 at the Imperial Hermitage Theatre.
The Pupils of Dupré was notated in the Stepanov notation method and is part of the Sergeyev Collection.
Le Pêcheur et La Perle (The Fisherman and the Pearl)
The pas de deux, Le Pêcheur et La Perle was perhaps the biggest highlight of Petipa’s 1887 revival of The King’s Command. It was composed by Riccardo Drigo and created for Virginia Zucchi and Enrico Cecchetti, who had only recently made his Imperial Theatre début. The Journal de St. Pétersbourg gave the following description of the pas de deux:
“… eminently poetic. The fisherman casts his net, a pearl is caught in it, and this pearl is Mlle. Zucchi. He retains her in his net throughout the adagio. She then escapes to dazzle him with the most stunning arabesques, only to be finally trapped once again in the net. M. Cecchetti himself performed a series of entrechats and turns that made the public more dizzy than himself, for he finished firmly on his legs. Mlle. Zucchi, too, after manoeuvring interminably on the pointe of one foot, continues dancing on pointe without a break, and all with an exquisite grace” – Journal de Saint Pétersbourg, 20 Nov./2 Dec. 1887.
Le Pêcheur et La Perle became one of the most celebrated passages in the Imperial Ballet repertoire and was performed by many great dancers thereafter, including Vera Trefilova, Sergei Legat, Tamara Karsavina and Mikhail Fokine. Karsavina danced the pas de deux with Fokine when she made her début with the Imperial Ballet on the 15th May 1902.
- Guest, Ivor (1977) The Divine Virgina: A Biography of Virginia Zucchi. New York, US: Marcel Dekker, Inc.