Discover More About the Coppelia Ballet

A Classic, Comical Ballet

Ballet dancer performing on stage in theater
Caiaimage/Martin Barraud / Getty Images

Coppelia is a charming, funny and comical ballet for all ages. The classic ballet is full of humor and ballet mime. It is often performed by small ballet companies because it doesn't require a large cast of world-class dancers, making it an ideal choice for a small production.

Plot Summary of Coppelia Ballet

The ballet is about a girl named Coppelia who sits on her balcony all day reading and never speaking to anyone.

A boy named Franz falls deeply in love with her and wants to marry her, even though he is already engaged to another woman. His fiance, Swanhilda, sees Franz throwing kisses at Coppelia. Swanhilda soon learns that Coppelia is actually a doll that belongs to Doctor Coppelius, the mad scientist. She decides to impersonate the doll, in order to win the love of Franz. Chaos ensues, but all is soon forgiven. Swanhilda and Franz make up and get married. The marriage is celebrated with several festive dances.

Origins of Coppelia

Coppelia is a classical ballet based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann entitled "Der Sandmann" ("The Sandman"), which was published in 1815. The ballet premiered in 1870. Doctor Coppelius has many similarities to Uncle Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. The Coppelia story evolved from traveling shows of the late 18th and early 19th centuries starring mechanical automatons.

Where to See Coppelia

Coppelia is part of the repertoire of many ballet companies.

It is typically presented in three acts, each act about 30 minutes in length. The full ballet is also available on DVD as performed by The Royal Ballet, Kirov Ballet, and the Australian Ballet. The ballet is a charming and enchanting production and is the perfect introduction to ballet for younger audiences.

Famous Dancers of Coppelia

Many well-known ballet dancers have danced roles in Coppelia. Gillian Murphy impressed audiences when she performed in American Ballet Theater's version of the classical ballet. Other famous dancers performing the classical story ballet include Isadora Duncan, Gelsey Kirkland, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Interesting Facts About Coppelia

Coppelia introduced automatons, dolls, and marionettes to ballet. The ballet consists of two acts and three scenes. The original choreographer was by Arthur Saint-Leon, who died three months after the first performance. The ballet was choreographed again by George Balanchine for his first wife, Alexandra Danilova, with much success.

In some Russian versions of the ballet, the second act is played on a more happier note; in that version, Swanilda does not fool Dr. Coppélius by dressing up as Coppelia and instead tells him the truth after being caught. He then teaches her how to act in a mechanical, like a doll, way in an effort to help her with her situation with Franz. 

In the Spanish production that was performed with the Orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceo of Barcelona, Walter Slezak played Dr. Coppelius and Claudia Corday was the doll who came to life.