The Royal Danish Ballet’s artistic director is visibly chuffed when he talks about his company’s upcoming premiere. “The Lady of the Camellias is one of Neumeier’s most beautiful ballets,” says Nikolaj Hübbe. Undoubtedly, it will be one of this season’s highlights at the opera.
American-born John Neumeier is the long-standing artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet. He has led the company since 1973 and created most of his over 140 ballets for it. But Copenhagen is no virgin territory for the choreographer, either. As a homage to Hans Christian Andersen in the year of the author’s 200th birthday celebrations, Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid opened the new opera house in Holmen in 2005.
Throughout his career Neumeier has dedicated himself to the story ballet, directing full-length pieces of both new versions of ballet classics – such as The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty or Giselle – and literature adaptations, such as Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Chekhov’s Seagull or Mann’s Death in Venice. The Lady of the Camellias is also part of that last category.
The tear-jerking story about the impossible love between the courtesan Marguerite and the young bourgeois Armand goes back to Alexandre Dumas the Younger’s novel from 1848. Four years later, a dramatised version became one of the most attention-grabbing theatre events of its time.
The story is set in the demimonde of mid-19th century Paris. Armand Duval falls in love with Marguerite Gautier. She returns his feelings and gives up her life, which is financed by many simultaneous lovers. Their romance is ruined by Armand’s father who fears for his family’s reputation; he urges Marguerite to leave his son, and she complies, realising that it might secure Armand a better future. Marguerite returns to her former milieu and suffers silently, scorned by Armand who only finds out her real motives for refusing to see him when she is dying of tuberculosis. The reconciliation scene that immediately precedes Marguerite’s death is the climax of the emotion-laden piece.
Besides Neumeier’s ballet version (for which the choreographer slightly altered the plot), Dumas’s novel and play have inspired numerous other adaptations for the stage, and the Greta Garbo film Camille. Perhaps most famously, Verdi’s opera La Traviata is based on the story of The Lady of the Camellias.
Neumeier created the part of Marguerite for the renowned Brazilian prima ballerina Marcia Haydée in 1978. He choreographed The Lady of the Camellias to music by Frédéric Chopin. The piece came to Copenhagen in 1987, when the Hamburg Ballet performed it in a guest appearance on the Old Stage. Now, the dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet are dancing The Lady of the Camellias themselves, for the first time.
(The Lady of the Camellias)
Gamle Scene, Kongens Nytorv, 1055 Cph K;
Starts Fri, ends May 2;
Performances at 20:00 on Fri, Sat, Mon, Tue Wed, April 12, April 13, April 17, April 19, April 20, April 21, May 2;
Tickets: 95–695kr; introduction 45 min before every performance in the balcony foyer (in Danish);