Ottorino Respighi – La Boutique fantasque, Ballet en un acte (1919)
(b. Bologna, 9 July 1879 – d. Rome, 18 April 1936)
after piano pieces from Péchés de vieillesse by Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)
In 1917, in the midst of World War I, Sergey Diaghilev’s celebrated Ballets Russes found themselves stranded between projects with time on their hands, waiting for Manuel de Falla, a notoriously methodical worker, to produce the score for what would eventually become the hugely successful Le Tricorne (“The Three-Cornered Hat,” 1919). Diaghilev and his brilliant young star dancer-choreographer, Léonide Massine (1896-1979), lit on the idea of doing a modernized version of Die Puppenfee (“The Fairy Doll”), a well-known ballet classic which had been created in 1888 in Vienna by Josef Bayer and established itself in St. Petersburg in a choreography by the Legat brothers in 1903.
But what about a score? Here the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi came to their aid. In 1916 he had alerted them to a number of piano pieces from Rossini’s barely-known collection Péchés de vieillesse (“Sins of Old Age”). The two men, delighted by the music’s light and satirical vein, resolved to use it as the basis of a ballet. Massine immediately had ideas for the new project. First he “visualized two Italian peasant dolls who would dance a tarantella. Then, for Rossini’s rousing mazurka, I pictured a quartet of characters from a pack of cards: the Queen of Diamonds and of Clubs, the King of Spades and of Hearts. Another piece of music, an ingenious parody of Offenbach, naturally suggested two vivacious cancan dancers in the spirit of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings. We all agreed that the ballet should be taken at top speed, the dancers following without a break.” …
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