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Giselle Ballet Synopsis


Premiere: June 28, 1841 - Salle Le Peletier, Paris

More Famous Ballet Synopses
Tchaikovsky's Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker

Composer: Adolphe Adam (1806-1856)
Adolphe Adam was a French composer with several notable works including his ballets Giselle and Le corsaire. He was born in Paris in 1806, to a musical father who taught music at the esteemed Paris Conservatoire. Though Adolphe attended the conservatoire, rather than follow instruction, he would improvise his own compositional styles. After finishing school, Adolphe played in an orchestra as well as composed various vaudeville songs, but played the organ to earn a living. After saving a large bit of capital, Adolphe was able to travel across Europe composing scores for multiple opera houses and ballet companies. By the end of his career, Adam had composed nearly 40 operas and a handful of ballets. Arguably, his most famous work is "Cantique de Noel," the quintessential piece of Christmas music known as "O Holy Night."

Librettists: Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier
Gautier (1811-1872) was a highly esteemed writer and critic. Famous for his poetry, novels, drama, and hard-to-classify literary style, his fans included other great writers like Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust. Saint-Georges (1799-1875) was a highly skilled and sought after librettist. Among his famous works are operas by Donizetti (La fille du régiment) and Bizet (La jolie fille de Perth).

Giselle Ballet Synopsis: Act 1
In an idyllic village set within the rolling hills of a vineyard near the Rhine River during the middle ages, Hilarion pays a visit to Giselle's cottage to leave behind a bouquet of fresh flowers in the early morning. Hilarion has been secretly in love with Giselle for quite some time. Before Giselle steps out of her cottage for the day, Hilarion disappears into the forest. Meanwhile, before the break of dawn, the Duke of Silesia has made his way into the village upon which his castle overlooks. The Duke is a very handsome man who is to be married to Princess Bathilde. The Duke had laid eyes upon the beautiful Giselle several days prior, and has decided to disguise himself as a peasant in order to see her more often, hoping to win her love. Along with his attendant, Wilfred, the Duke moves into a nearby cottage. While disguised, he can keep his authoritative position secret as well as his impending marriage - he's determined to live a double life for as long as possible. When the sun rises and the villagers exit their homes, the Duke introduces himself as Loys to Giselle. Giselle is immediately drawn to him and falls deeply in love. When Hilarion returns, he warns her not to trust the stranger so willingly, but she doesn't listen. Giselle and Loys continue to dance in merriment. She picks up a daisy and proceeds to pluck its petals, and one by one asking if "he loves me" or "loves me not." Giselle, believing the outcome to bad, throws the flower to the ground. Loys picks it up and counts out the remaining petals to her. The last petal confirms he loves her. Happy once more, she continues to dance with him. Berthe, Giselle's mother, does not approve of Giselle's infatuation with the stranger and immediately orders her back into the house to finish her chores.

Horns are sounded in the distance, and Loys quickly departs. A hunting party, including Princess Bathilde and her father, stops by the village for refreshments. Giselle and the villagers greet the royal guests, and Giselle even dances for them. In return, Bathilde gives Giselle a lovely necklace. After the hunting party departs from the village, Loys returns alongside a group of grape harvesters, and a celebration ensues. As Giselle dances and joins in the excitement, Hilarion returns with information about the stranger, Loys. Hilarion has been researching the stranger, even going so far as to snooping through his cottage. He produces the Duke's noble sword and horn. To everyone's astonishment, Hilarion sounds the horn and the hunting party returns. Giselle cannot believe it. Nearly driving herself mad, she pieces together the Duke's lies, and even puts the Duke's sword to her own heart. All of a sudden, Giselle falls to the ground and dies. It wasn't the sword that killed her, though. Giselle had a very weak heart and was warned by her mother that too much dancing would one day end her life.

Giselle Ballet Synopsis: Act 2
Underneath the bright pale light of the midnight moon, Hilarion visits Giselle's grave and mourns her death. As he weeps, the Wilis (vengeful female spirits who died abandoned on their wedding days) rise from their shallow graves at night to haunt and kill men. Hilarion becomes so frightened, he runs back to the village. Meanwhile, the Duke as ventured out into the dark night in search of Giselle's grave. The Wilis raise Giselle's spirit when the Duke draws near. The spirits disappear and the Duke is reunited with Giselle. Even in the after life, she still loves him and is quick to forgive him. The two lovers dance into the night until Giselle disappears within the shadows.

The Wilis have continued chasing Hilarion. Unable to escape their torment, he is chased into a nearby lake and drowns. The evil spirits turn their sights to the Duke and are determined to kill him as well. The Wilis Queen, Myrtha, emerges and the Duke begs for his life. However, she shows no mercy and the Wilis force him to dance without stopping. Giselle reappears and protects the man she loves. She fends off the Wilis and their attempts to torture the Duke. Finally, the sun rises and the Wilis return to their graves. Giselle, overflowing with love, has rejected the vengeful spirits and not only saves the Duke's life, she manages to save her own eternal life. She is able to return to her grave in peace without ever having to rise at night to hunt down the lives of men.

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