Premiere of this production: 03 Apr 2014
The performance has 2 intermissions
Running time: 3 hours
Music by Leo Delibes
Choreography by Frederick Ashton
Choreography revived by Christopher Newton
Coaches for the Mariinsky Theatre production: Anna Trevienand Susan Jones
Set and Costume Design: Christopher and Robin Ironside
Additional Designs: Peter Farmer
Original Lighting: Mark Jonathan
Sylvia, originally Sylvia, ou La nymphe de Diane, is a full-length ballet in two or three acts, first choreographed by Louis Mйrante to music by Lйo Delibes in 1876. Sylvia is a typical classical ballet in many respects, yet it has many interesting features which make it unique. Sylvia is notable for its mythological Arcadian setting, creative choreographies, expansive sets and, above all, its remarkable score.
The ballet's origins are in Tasso's 1573 poem Aminta, which provides the basic plot of Delibes' work. Jules Barbier and Baron de Reinach adapted this for the Paris Opera. The piano arrangement was composed in 1876 and the orchestral suite was done in 1880.
When Sylvia premiиred on Wednesday, June 14, 1876, at the Palais Garnier, it went largely unnoticed. In fact, the first seven productions of Sylvia were not commercially successful. It was the 1952 revival, choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, that popularized the ballet. Ashton's success set the stage for the 1997, 2004, 2005 and 2009 productions, all of which were based on his 1952 choreography.
The ballet begins with a scene of worship as creatures of the forest dance before Eros. Aminta, a lowly shepherd, stumbles in on them, disrupting their ritual. Now Sylvia, the object of Aminta's desire, arrives on the scene with her posse of hunters to mock the god of love. Aminta attempts to conceal himself, but Sylvia eventually discovers her stalker and, inflamed, turns her bow towards Eros. Aminta protects the deity and is himself wounded. Eros in turn shoots Sylvia. She is hit, and though not badly wounded, the injury is enough to drive her offstage.
A hunter, Orion, is revealed to also have been watching Sylvia, when he is seen celebrating the unconscious Aminta. Orion conceals himself again as Sylvia returns; this time she is sympathetic towards Aminta. As the huntress laments over her victim, she is kidnapped by Orion and carried off. Peasants grieve over Aminta's figure until a cloaked Eros revives the shepherd. Eros reveals his true identity and informs Aminta of Orion's actions.
Captive in Orion's island hideout, Sylvia is tempted by him with jewels and wine to no avail. Sylvia now grieves over Aminta, cherishing the arrow pulled from her breast nostalgically. When Orion steals it from her, Sylvia gets her captor drunk until he is unconscious, whereby she retrieves her arrow and appeals to Eros for help. Sylvia's invocations are not in vain, for Eros quickly arrives and shows his summoner a vision of Aminta waiting for her. The duo depart for the temple of Diana, where Sylvia's love awaits.
Aminta arrives at the temple of Diana to find a bacchanal but no Sylvia, who will soon arrive with Eros. After a few moments of mirth at the reunion, Orion shows up, seeking Sylvia. He and Aminta fight; Sylvia barricades herself in Diana's shrine and Orion attempts to follow. The goddess of the hunt, outraged at this act, smites Orion and denies Aminta and Sylvia congress. Compassionate Eros gives Diana a vision. The goddess reminisces over her own young love of Endymion, also a shepherd. Diana has a change of heart and repeals her decree. Aminta and Sylvia come together under the deities' good will.
A sacred wood
Woodland creatures dance in the moonlight before the shrine of Eros, the god of Love. They are interrupted by the arrival of the shepherd Aminta, who is in love with Sylvia. Hearing Sylvia and her attendants approaching, Aminta hides and watches them dance as they celebrate the success of their hunt. Sylvia, who as one of Diana’s nymphs has promised to renounce love, taunts the statue of Eros. Meanwhile Orion, the evil hunter, has also been secretly watching Sylvia and, inflamed by her beauty, is determined to possess her.
Aminta’s cloak is discovered and the shepherd is dragged from his hiding place. He declares his love for Sylvia, but she is outraged and, blaming the mischievous Eros, draws her bow at the god. Aminta, shielding the statue, is pierced to the heart by Sylvia’s arrow. Eros retaliates by shooting Sylvia. Shaken, she removes the arrow from her heart and leaves with her companions.
Peasants, on their way to the fields, dance in honour of Eros. As they leave, Orion enters and gloats over the body of Aminta. He is interrupted by the return of Sylvia who, having been pierced to the heart by Eros’ arrow, now mourns the dead Aminta. Emerging from his hiding place, Orion captures Sylvia and carries her off to his island cave.
A peasant, having witnessed Sylvia’s abduction, calls his friends back and they too weep over Aminta’s body. A strange cloaked figure appears among them, and they ask for his help. He picks a flower from a nearby bush and, pressing the petals to Aminta’s lips, brings him back to life. Aminta thanks the stranger who then tells him of Sylvia’s abduction. As the peasants find her bow the stranger reveals himself as Eros and sends Aminta in search of Sylvia.
Orion’s island cave
Orion tries in vain to gain Sylvia’s affections by tempting her with jewels and fine clothes. She is reminded of her love for Aminta by Eros’ arrow, but as she attempts to escape, Orion takes it from her. He offers her wine. In order to evade his advances, she encourages him to drink and dances for him until he falls senseless. She retrieves the arrow and prays to Eros for help. The god appears, shows Sylvia a vision of Aminta waiting for her by Diana’s temple, then takes her to be reunited with him.
The sea coast near the temple of Diana
A festival in honour of the god Bacchus is interrupted by the arrival of Aminta in search of Sylvia. He hopes to find her in Diana’s temple but is met by closed doors. He sees a boat approaching with Eros, Sylvia and her attendants on board, and Eros reunites the lovers.
The general rejoicing is interrupted by Orion, determined to recapture Sylvia. She takes refuge in the temple and, after a fight with Aminta, Orion tries to break in. Enraged by the intrusion, Diana appears and kills him. Her anger is now directed at the lovers and she forbids their union. Eros reminds Diana that she herself was once infatuated with a simple shepherd, Endymion. She relents and gives the lovers her blessing.