Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber (Caen 29 January 1782- Paris 12/13 May 1871) is primarily remembered as one of the great masters of opera-comique, but also played a very important role in the development of Romantic ballet through the long danced interludes and divertissements in his grand operas La Muette de Portici, Le Dieu et la Bayadere, Gustave III, ou Le Bal masque, Le Lac des fees, L'Enfant prodigue, Zerline, and the opera-ballet version of Le Cheval de bronze. Auber also adapted music of various of his operas to create the score of the full-length ballet Marco Spada; it is quite different from his own opera on the subject. Additionally, several choreographers have used Auber's music for their ballets, among them Frederick Ashton (Les Rendezvous, 1937), Victor Gsovsky (Grand Pas Classique, 1949) and Lew Christensen (Divertissement d'Auber, 1959). La Muette de Portici (1828), choreographed by Jean-Pierre Aumer, is set against the Neapolitan uprising of 1647, and was performed 500 times in Paris alone between 1828 and 1880. The opera provides one of the few serious subjects the composer tackled, and one which critics found to have a persuasive dramatic content. An unusual aspect of the work is that the main character, a mute girl, is performed by a mime or a ballerina. The role of ballet in La Muette is important in setting the local scene, using dance episodes, whether courtly, and therefore Spanish-as in the guarucha and bolero in act 1, or popular, and therefore Neapolitan-as in the act 3 tarantella. Dance is also innate to the dramatic situation in the extended mime sequences for the mute heroine each with its own specially crafted music and character. The music responds to, and reflects, the vivid and imposing scenic effects (based on historical and pictorial research by the great stage designers and painters Ciceri and Daguerre). Le Dieu et la Bayadere (1830), set in India, was choreographed by Filippo Taglioni. Eugene Scribe, not only one of the most influential of opera librettists, but also a leading figure in the history of ballet, wrote the scenario for the danced part, which was fairly long and of artistic merit. In the ballet scenes of the opera, the choreographer, one of the most important exponents of dance in the Romantic period, was already experimenting with the ideas and style that were to characterize the creations of his prime, and of the Romantic ballet as a whole: an exotic fairy tale subject (often pseudo-Medieval or pastoral), and strange love affairs with supernatural beings, in the theatrical, musical and literary taste of the period. Above all, the Romantic ballet focused on the idealization of the ballerina, floating on the tips of her toes, a figure of ethereal lyricism. All the ballets by Filippo Taglioni were designed to display his daughter Marie's luminous artistic personality. The heavily mime-oriented role of the bayadere Zoloe was one of Marie Taglioni's createst triumphs. Gustave III (1833), based on the assassination of King Gustavus of Sweden in 1792, and also choreographed by Filippo Taglioni, was heavily influenced by the impact of the production of Robert le Diable, which saw a particular emphasis placed on sets and stage effects. The grand and historical nature of this opera is powerfully underscored by the two intercalated ballets. The first divertissement comes as early as act 1, and is in the nature of a grand historical pageant based on the life of Gustavus Vasa (1523-60), founder of the present Swedish state, before he gained the crown. There are two dances illustrating the prince's leadership of the populace of Dalecarlia on the campaign to gain freedom from Denmark. The second divertissement is the legendary masked ball of the title at which the king was assassinated in 1792. The spectacle provided by the Opera was sensational: the stage was illumined by 1600 candles in crystal chandeliers, and 300 dancers took part, all dressed in different costumes, and with 100 dancing the final galop. There are six numbers: three airs de danse (Allemande, Pas de folies, Menuet), two marches, and the famous final galop. Much time in Le Lac des fees, a tale of love between a human and a supernatural being, choreographed by Jean Coralli, is taken in elaborating the central depiction of popular festivity. Indeed, the requirements of grand-opera are realized with an original twist in the big act 3 depiction of the Medieval Epiphany celebrations, with its attempt at recreating the variety of genre and mood. There is a detailed description of the procession through the streets of Cologne, organized by the Medieval guilds, each preceded by its own standard, with choruses. It unfolds in several movements: -the chorus of students Vive la jeunesse, the Fete des Rois with its Chant de Noel, the whole culminating in a big ballet sequence of four dances: 1) Valse des Etudiants, 2) Pas de Bacchus et Erigone, 3) Styrienne, and 4) Bacchanale. Scribe's stage directions provide vivid details and combine historically informed spectacle, pantomime and dance into a single artistic conception. L'Enfant prodigue (1850), based on the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son, was choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon. A special aspect of the opera is the dance sequence in act 2-No.10 Scene, containing 5 Airs de ballet, as part of the celebrations of the sacred bull Apis. There are some further danced passages in the opening part of act 3, where the formal operatic elements of prayer, drinking song, bacchanal, and lullaby are integrated with singing and dancing into an artistic whole, once again with reference to the venerable French tradition of the opera-ballet. Scribe's scenarios show that the formal dances are either enmeshed in the unfolding of the drama (act 2), or use dance an integral element in the thematic ramifications of the plotline (in act 3). Zerline, ou La Corbeille d'oranges (1851) was choreographed by Joseph Mazilier. Act 3 is dominated by the great princely festivities featuring eight dance movements (No. 15 Airs de Ballet and No. 16 Choeur (Valse), a pallid reminiscence of the great Masked Ball of Gustave in 1832. Auber reused much of the ballet music from act 3 of Le Lac des fees in this elaborate semi-allegorical masque that employs a variety of forms and fuses various types of danced entertainment, from classical pas de deux and formal ball through national dance, vaudeville and children's routines to carnival. Marco Spada, ou La Fille du bandit (1857) was choreographed by Joseph Mazilier. Scribe's libretto for the opera-comique Marco Spada which had been produced at the Opera-Comique in December 1852 with Auber's music, met the fundamental requirement of having two important female characters, and provided Scribe with the right opportunity to adapt his story to a scenario for dancing. So the opera-comique was transformed into a ballet-Auber's only full length one. The music was not an adaptation of the opera, but rather a composite score made up of the most striking numbers from several of Auber's works: Le Concert a la cour, Fiorella, La Fiancee, Fra Diavolo, Le Lac des fees, L'Ambassadrice, Les Diamants de la couronne, La Barcarolle, Zerline and L'Enfant prodigue. The original scenario required elaborate decor and stage machinery, which was a factor in this later revival of the work at the Academie de musique on 21 September1857. In 1857 Auber reworked the score of the opera-comique Le Cheval de bronze as an opera-ballet in four acts, adding recitatives, and extra ballet and ensemble numbers. The choreography was by Lucien Petipa. The divertissements consisted of 1) a seven-movement Pas de quatre in act 1 2) a four-movement Danse in act 3 3) and five-movement Pas de deux in act 4. This version of the opera has never been published. The 20th century saw Auber's music used for three significant ballet arrangements. Les Rendezvous is an abstract ballet created in 1933 with choreography by Frederick Ashton, the first major ballet created by Ashton for the Vic Wells company. It was first performed on Tuesday, December 5th, 1933, by the Vic Wells Ballet at Sadler's Wells Theatre. Premiered in Paris in the year 1949, Grand Pas Classique by Russian choreographer and ballet master Victor Gsovsky (1902 74) is a homage to classical dance. Based on musical extracts from the three-act ballet Marco Spada (1857), published by the composer as an offshoot of his opera by the same name, this pas de deux is a masterpiece of exquisite virtuosity. Divertissement d'Auber is set to excerpts from Auber's four most famous and dazzling operatic overtures. It is quicksilver, joyous music that inspired Lew Christensen's most brilliant and effervescent choreographic style. The work showcases the technique of classical ballet at its peak, with the form and movement of the choreography running the gamut of the dancer's virtuoso vocabulary. Divertissement d'Auber is a staple of Christensen's canon
About the Author: Robert Ignatius Letellier has specialized in the music and literature of the Romantic Period. He has studied the work of Giacomo Meyerbeer (a four-volume English edition of his diaries, a collection of critical and biographical studies, a guide to research, two readings of the operas, as well as compiling and introducing editions of the complete libretti and non-operatic texts, and a selection of manuscripts facsimiles). He has also written on the ballets of Ludwig Minkus, compiled a series of scores on the Romantic Ballet, and produced studies of the opera-comique and Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber.