From the very beginning, grand opera gave pride of place to ballet. Thus, the leading role in La Muette de Portici, in 1828, was conferred, not on a singer, but on a dancer. Three years later, Robert le Diable provided the context for a prototype of romantic ballet blanc: the “Bacchanale des nonnes”, choreographed by Philippe Taglioni for his daughter Marie, thus launching her Parisian career. From now on, ballet was to be an integral part of all works in the genre and contributed to their success.
Wagner himself was obliged, against his will, to respect this tradition and in 1861 introduced a danced scene for the Parisian premiere of Tannhäuser. Despite being choreographed by Lucien Petipa, the piece was qualified as “a schoolgirls’ orgy” by one critic at the time. Because of the increasingly flagrant lack of connection between the ballet and the dramatic action of the opera in which it had been inserted, a decline inevitably began.
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