The run of Coppelia at Covent Garden is a long one, beginning in February with a few performances continuing into May. When this was announced, I wondered if there was a market for so many performances of this ballet, when both ENB and BRB have toured it relatively recently. Covent Garden wasn’t full, but the audience was certainly respectable - better than for some recent triple bills - so I guess this answers my question. Coppelia was televised live here in late February - did this increase its appeal ? It certainly looks quite different in the flesh - the designs which simply looked bright and cheerful on tv looked fairly lurid on stage. The bright reds of the costume did little to flatter the blond Sarah Wildor as Swanilda - you really need to be dark haired to carry off her Act 1 and 2 costume.
This run of Coppelia is a revival of the de Valois production. It’s not a work which makes any demands on the viewer other to sit back and enjoy. It’s a simple story of how Dr Coppelius’ life size dolls (including the lovely Coppelia) tempt the villagers, particularly Franz, who is not above two timing his spirited fiancee Swanilda, into various pranks: all of course ends happily with a long series of dances for the betrothal.
Wildor was a delightful Swanilda, vivacious and full of fun, and Kobborg a larky and lively Franz. They acted well together, but their dancing was perhaps more satisfying when dancing separately than together. Looking at them individually, Wildor’s footwork is a delight to watch, and Kobborg’s jumps are a treat: but together they didn’t work quite so well, with the lifts not quite easy and a certain tension in the balances in the Act 3 pas de deux. Admittedly, these balances are difficult - but they looked it. And yet, in other respects, Wildor has great technical strengths - some exquisite little hops on pointe.
The ups and downs of their affections are very clearly put over by the pair, and Wildor’s jealousy when he dances with someone else is a sight to behold, as she leaps up on a table to attract his attention. Swanilda’s friends were strongly cast on this performance (Tapper, Morera, Galeazzi among them, and a lively Maeda) and very nicely danced. The corps looked well settled in to their roles and the group dances came over very smoothly without any obvious nerves or hitches, and with the dancers looking relaxed and confident. Gillian Revie danced Aurora in Act 3, but the greatest impression was made by Yanowsky as Prayer. This began very beautifully, lost focus slightly in the middle but finished strongly - she was very popular.
Although Coppelia has the reputation as a light and charming piece, I have never felt entirely persuaded by it. There is something quite cold at the heart of the story - that it’s funny to mock the old man, to have him pushed around by a group of lads, to steal his keys, trash his inventions, and to assume that he can just be paid off at the end without further thought. Somehow there’s a lack of humanity and affection that warms Ashton works, where the comic players are still allowed their moments of dignity. William Tuckett’s Dr Coppelius never becomes more than a cartoon figure: a shame, since Tuckett is normally a fine character actor. The Royal’s production has grandeur but it misses out on the generosity and warmth of the Birmingham production, where, just as the curtain falls, the doll finally does come to life for Coppelius. In the Royal production he watches the festivities from his window but doesn’t participate.
The score nevertheless is ravishing, delightfully danceable music played as if they actually enjoyed it by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, conducted on this occasion by Jacques Lacombe. This zipped along at quite a pace. Lacombe (who I don’t recall conducting ballet here before) got a solo curtain call at the end, which is unusual at Covent Garden, but he was much appreciated by the audience.