All About The Ballet Vespri

Above is an extract from Vespri the Opera which was very popular at a time. A lot of people haven’t heard about the Ballet Vespri, and it was also quite difficult to research it, as there isn’t that much about the ballet online. I happened to see the ballet or a shortened version of it back in 1991, and I have never forgotten it. It wasn’t the same as the version above, as that one is from the opera. The one I saw, all the dancers were dressed in tutus of the same style and the men all dressed in black.

The reason I couldn’t find out much about the ballet I discovered, is that Vespri is better known as an opera, and the ballet was just added in. Les Vepres Sicilienne’s was first done in 1855 as an opera. It was soon after known in Italian as I Vespri Siciliani.

During the seventeenth century, the French Opera had emerged as a dual art form with its sister ballet. Many so-called opera-ballets were produced during this time, including Vespres Sicilienne.

By the latter half of the eighteenth century, song and dance had once again gone their separate ways, but ballet, within the confines of contained dance episodes was to remain an obligatory presence in the French Opera for well over another century.

Les Vepres Siciliennes was a five-act opera. Verdi was trying to satisfy Parisian operatic tastes and he had months of frustration and wasted effort. The piece was finally completed and it was a triumphant public success. The opera achieve fifty performances in its first season and was immediately adopted by the Italians in its translated version. However it’s popularity did not last and today, despite several major stagings, the work can hardly be accredited a standard repertoire piece.

The ballet in Act III, however, has acquired a great public. Originally composed to portray the four seasons, it represents Verdi’s most ambitious balletic work. The ballet’s highly charged melodic vein and flamboyancy immediately explain its appeal.

Andre Prokovsky choreographed a ballet in the classical style to Verdi’s music for the New London Ballet in 1973. This ballet was originally for twelve dancers but was then expanded for a much larger company. There is a series of solo variations, some pas de deux and then some ensemble pieces. Then there are other pieces that the entire corps de ballet does. There is no storyline, it is just a magnificent classical dance piece to watch if done well.

Prokovsky’s Vespri in no way attempts to portray choreographically the programmatic nature of Verdi’s score, but rather echoes the sparkle and wit of the music in a gorgeous celebration of classical dance.



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