The Coppélia of Ninette de Valois was first seen in 1954 at the Royal Opera House, and has not dated one ounce. The apparently cardboard, dollhouse evocation of a German peasant village has been carefully restaged by Anthony Dowell, and under the attentive lighting of John B Read, every tableaux is fresh, colourful and wondrously mystic. Those beaming sets for the first and third acts soar into the rafters; the house of Dr Coppélius in Act Two is a treasure chest just waiting to be opened. This Coppélia has returned with vitality to spare, and the first evening performance was immensely enjoyable.
Miyako Yoshida‘s Swanilda is a fine creation, with a range of dramatic ideas and expressive nuances ready to be deployed at any given moment. Hers was an exceptionally cheeky, mischievous peasant girl, while her superbly controlled extensions, exemplary poise and firm line gave her complete dramatic freedom. Occasional wobbles hardly detracted, and her twinkling eyes and vast smile oozed confidence and understanding.
Her Franz, Federico Bonelli possesses awesome technical ability, though his frame is a tad too statuesque for the role. Nevertheless, I loved his Act One duet with Gillian Revie‘s Peasant Girl and his virtuoso contributions to Act Three. The Pas de deux with Yoshida was flawless.
And just as important – Dr Coppélius was given special treatment by Alistair Marriot, who managed to characterise in the usual 1920s horror movie manner while still asking for audience understanding. His discovery of the stripped mannequin in Act Two was bizarrely moving.
The corps looked ragged in places, and some ensemble passages seemed more like Clapham Junction in rush hour than Ninette de Valois. The six girls who accompany Swanilda in Act Two seemed to especially lack a sense of timing, but in Act Three, the contributions of Laura Morera and Francesca Filpi as Aurora and Prayer were much appreciated.
Benjamin Pope has obviously drilled the orchestra well, and there was much style in his interpretation. Sadly, the balance of instruments seemed occasionally off, sometimes reducing Delibes’s great score to a mess of tonic-dominant oom-pahs and caterwauling brass lines.
But this was still a great Coppélia, with three accomplished leads and a set that has withstood age to become one of the gems of the Royal Ballet. Catch it while you can, and take your children, for this is as good an introduction to theatre as I can imagine.