MUSIC: Adolphe Adam.
CHOREOGRAPHY: Jules Perrot y Jean Coralli.
PLOT: Théophile Gautier.
FIRST PERFORMED: Paris Opera, 28th of June 1841.
RELATED ARTICLE: Fin de Semana Giselle.
BALLET IN TWO ACTS
The ballet opens on a sunny autumnal morning in the Rhineland during the Middle Ages. The grape harvest is in progress. Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a young nobleman, has fallen in love with a shy and beautiful peasant girl, Giselle. Despite being betrothed to Bathilde, the daughter of the Duke of Courtland, Albrecht disguises himself as a humble village lad called “Loys” in order to woo the innocent Giselle, who knows nothing of his true identity.
Hilarion, a village gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle. He tries to convince her that “Loys” cannot be trusted, but Giselle ignores his warnings. Giselle’s mother, Berthe, is very protective of her daughter, as Giselle has a weak heart that leaves her in delicate health. She discourages a relationship between Giselle and Loys, and disapproves of Giselle’s love of dancing.
A party of noblemen seeking refreshment following the rigors of the hunt arrives in the village. Albrecht quickly hurries away, knowing he will be recognized by Bathilde, who is in attendance. The villagers welcome the party, offer them refreshments, and perform several dances. Bathilde is charmed with Giselle’s sweet and demure nature, not knowing of her relationship with Albrecht. Giselle is honored when the beautiful stranger offers her a necklace as a gift.
Hilarion interrupts the festivities. He has discovered Albrecht’s sword and presents it as proof that the peasant lad is not who he pretends to be. All are shocked by the revelation but none more than Giselle, who becomes inconsolable when faced with her lover’s deception. Knowing that they can never be together, Giselle flies into a mad fit of grief, causing her weak heart to give out and she dies in Albrecht’s arms.
THE ROYAL BALLET
A moonlit glade near Giselle’s grave. Hilarion mourns at Giselle’s headstone, but is frightened away by the arrival of the Wilis, the spirits of women jilted by their lovers at the altar. The Wilis, led by their merciless queen Myrtha, haunt the forest at night to seek revenge on any man they encounter, forcing their victims to dance until they die of exhaustion.
Myrtha and the Wilis rouse Giselle’s spirit from her grave and induct her into their clan, before disappearing into the forest. Albrecht arrives to lay flowers on Giselle’s grave and he weeps with guilt over her death. Giselle’s spirit appears and Albrecht begs her forgiveness. Giselle, her love undiminished, gently forgives him. She disappears to join the rest of the Wilis and Albrecht desperately follows her.
Meanwhile, the Wilis have cornered Hilarion. They use their magic to force him to dance until he is nearly dead, and then drown him in a nearby lake. Then they turn on Albrecht, sentencing him to death as well. He pleads to Myrtha for his life, but she coldly refuses. Giselle’s pleas are also dismissed and Albrecht is forced to dance until sunrise. However, the power of Giselle’s love counters the Wilis’ magic and spares his life. The other spirits return to their graves at daybreak, but Giselle has broken through the feelings of hatred and vengeance that control the Wilis, and is thus released from their powers. After bidding a tender farewell to Albrecht, Giselle returns to her grave to rest in peace.
THE ROYAL BALLET