Coppélia Is Brilliant Christmas Fare For Those Who've Seen The Nutcracker One Too Many Times

Coppélia, Royal Opera House ★★★★☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 36 months ago

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Coppélia Is Brilliant Christmas Fare For Those Who've Seen The Nutcracker One Too Many Times Coppélia, Royal Opera House 4
Photo: Bill Cooper

Coppélia may be the nearest classical ballet comes to pantomime, and as a choice alternative to the usual slew of Nutcrackers and Sleeping Beauties, this one is a tuneful and comic delight.

Vintage cartoonist Osbert Lancaster's colourful 1954 designs place us in a story book mittel-Europe — tight bodices, full skirts and men in leggings and boots. And while it's not envelope-pushing, Ninette de Valois' choreography is tight on precision, extension and rigorous pointe work.

The plot is deliciously silly — Swanilda and Franz are young lovers, but he's besotted by a 'girl' seen in a window, a mechanical doll made by the creepy-to-downright-Jeffrey-Epstein character of Dr Coppélius played by hugely popular character artist Gary Avis. Those crazy kids break into the workshop, trick the old guy into believing the doll's come to life, a prince doles out bags of gold to make everyone happy, and there's a wedding at the end.

Photo: Bill Cooper

Coppélia is especially good for the littl'uns because there's none of the frightening darkness even of Swan Lake. The show is filled with a wealth of exuberant routines from the Scottish and Spanish solos, to superb 24-strong corps de ballet — where the rhythmic slapping of soft leather boots and the super-precise placing of the feet in their Hungarian-inspired Mazurka and Csárdás formation dances is so uplifting.

It's not perfect, but neither is it a lazy revival, most of the principals in this season have not danced Coppélia in their careers before, this is the first time in 13 years Covent Garden has staged it.

Francesca Hayward is a glorious Swanilda, the sustained strength and controlled elegance of her dancing brought rapturous applause, and she's a neat mime and comedienne. The partnership with Alexander Campbell's Franz is both powerful and romantic — Franz spends most of the second act in a drugged stupor but comes thrillingly to life in the final scenes.

Covent Garden is always worth the investment but if the royal box is a touch beyond your Christmas budget, Coppélia is screened in fifty cinemas across London on Tuesday 10 December.

Coppélia, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden WC2, £5-£120. Until 7 January 2020, in cinemas 10 December

Last Updated 03 December 2019