Zoraiya, the Moorish Girl in Spain

Grand Ballet in four acts
Music by Ludwig Minkus

World Première
13th February [O.S. 1st February] 1881
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, Saint Petersburg

Original 1881 Cast
Ekaterina Vazem

Solimon, the adopted son of Caliph Abderraman, is in love with Zoraiya, the Caliph’s daughter. Zoraiya reciprocates his love, but is horrified to learn that her father has arranged for her to marry Tamarat, the leader of an African tribe. During the ceremonial procession, a despairing Solimon throws himself beneath the chariot carrying Tamarat and Zoraiya, but his tutor, who is a famous physician, saves his life. Solimon has a dream full of wonderful visions in which Zoraiya is a houri of paradise. Zoraiya has indeed come in secret to visit her beloved. Hearing steps, she hides and hears Tamarat trying to persuade some vagrants to kill Solimon. When they refuse, Tamarat, himself, goes to attack his sleeping rival, but Zoraiya’s appearance stops him. Outraged by Tamarat’s wickedness, the Caliph banishes him and gives his consent for Zoraiya and Solimon to marry.

Zoraiya, the Moorish Girl in Spain marks an interesting reformulation of Petipa’s ideas. Staged four years after La Bayadère and twelve years after Don Quixote, the ballet presented a combination of both elements that had made the two previous so successful – an Oriental story, but set in a context that allowed for the exploitation of the Spanish ideas that were tied to Petipa’s experience and training from his years spent in Spain. The majority of Minkus’s score reflected the Iberian character suggested by the period of the Moorish occupation of Spain from 710-1492, a period when so much of the temperament and style of Spanish dance and music were imbibed from the Afro-Arabic culture of the Zegris and Abencerage in Granada, the last Muslim state in Spain (1232-1492).

Zoraiya, the Moorish Girl in Spain was premièred on the 13th February [O.S. 1st February] 1881 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, with Ekaterina Vazem in the title role. Among those who attended the première was Tchaikovsky, despite the emotional strain of the rehearsals for his opera The Maid of Orleans.



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