One of the most popular and light-hearted of comic ballets, Coppélia ends with a wedding but also incorporates some of the darker elements of fairy and folk tales, including an eerie toymaker and his life-size dolls.
Coppélia is based on a story by the popular writer ETA Hoffmann in which The Sandman, a terrifying alchemist, creates an automaton with which a young man falls in love. This causes a series of events which lead to the young man’s death. As in the ballet, the alchemist’s name is Coppélius, however, the scenario for Coppélia by Charles Nuitter contains only a hint of the darkness of the original story.
Act I: The Town Square. The lovers Swanilda and Franz are planning to marry. However, Franz is infatuated with a young woman named Coppélia, who sits motionless in the window of the toy maker, Dr Coppélius’ house. Franz does not realise that Coppélia is one of his life-sized dolls, rather than a living woman and Swanilda is jealous of his interest in Coppélia. In a traditional test of faithfulness, she shakes an ear of wheat to see if it rattles. That it does not, is a bad sign for their love.
When Dr Coppélius comes out of his house, he is swept up by a group of rowdy boys. In the confusion, he drops the key to his house. Swanilda and her friends find it and decide that this is their opportunity to learn more about Coppélia.
Act II: The House of Dr Coppélius. Swanilda and her friends discover that Coppélia is a life-sized doll, and that Dr Coppélius has also created several other similar dolls. They wind them up and they start dancing. Dr Coppélius returns and chases the girls away. Swanilda hides behind a curtain and stays in the house. At the same time, Franz sneaks in through the window, hoping to meet Coppélia.
Dr Coppélius secretly hopes to bring Coppélia to life. To do this, he plans to cast a magic spell, but needs to take the life of another human being. The wily toy maker plies Franz with alcohol until he passes out. Dr Coppélius starts to prepare his spell. In the meantime, Swanilda has taken the place of Coppélia. When the toy maker starts to cast the spell over her, Swanilda pretends to be the doll and ‘comes to life’, causing chaos in the house. Franz wakes up and Swanilda forgives him before they run out together. Dr Coppélius discovers that he has been fooled and that Coppélia is still just a doll.
Act III: The Wedding. The villagers are preparing in the town square for the marriage of Swanilda and Franz. Angry and upset, Dr Coppélius arrives and tries to disrupt the festivities by claiming damages. The mayor offers a large sum of money to Dr Coppélius, which calms him down. He is invited to the wedding along with everyone else, and the festivities continue with a series of dances.
Video: Coppélia - Act II (Spanish): Natalia Osipova, The Bolshoi Ballet, 2009.