THE story of Coppelia was created in Paris and first performed at the opera on May 25, 1870.

It is typical of the early 19th century Romantic period when there was a wide-spread fascination for automata of all sorts. Its source was a macabre story called The Sandman by Ernest Theodore Amadeus Hoffmann, best known today for its inclusion in the 1881 opera The Tales of Hoffmann.

Act I opens in the beautifully created and atmospheric stage set of the village square in Galicia. Burgomaster (James Streeter)’s daughter Swanilda (Shiori Kase) and her friends (Desiree Ballentyne, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Jung ah Choi and Lauretta Summerscales) dance on the eve of Swanilda’s wedding to Franz (Fernando Bufala). Swanilda is concerned about her fiance’s apparent preoccupation with what appears to be a beautiful girl sitting silently on Dr Coppelius’ balcony, and begins to question the seriousness of his affections.

The burgomaster reminds the villagers that the following day will be the harvest festival at which his daughter’s wedding will be celebrated. Seeing that the couple appear to have quarrelled, he produces an ear of corn and tells them that the old legend says that if the ear of corn rattles, the marriage will take place. The corn, however remains silent.

Coppelia, the mechanical doll who sits on the balcony (whose spasmodic automated movements were realistically portrayed by Yoko Callegari) was created by the eccentric and slightly sinister toymaker Dr Coppelius (Michael Coleman).

Dr Coppelius’s explosive experiments cause amusement in the village square, but that night he is intercepted by a crowd of rowdy youths who duck his head in the village fountain, causing him to drop his house key. Swanilda and her friends discover the key and decide to let themselves into the mysterious house.

Act II opens in the sinister workshop where the girls discover the many automatons created by Dr Coppelius, and find that the beautiful girl from the balcony is simply a doll. An irate Dr Coppelius appears and drives out the intruders apart from Swanilda who is trapped in an alcove. Meanwhile, Franz has put a ladder up to the outside of the balcony and enters. Dr Coppelius seizes him, drugs him, and attempts to transfer his life force into the doll whose place has been taken by Swanilda. Franz revives and he and Swanilda make up their quarrel in time for their wedding.

Act III celebrates the harvest festival and the wedding feast.

Vibrant dancers, skilful choreography, colourful costumes and a stage set that had all the magic of a Victorian Christmas card combined to make this a very memorable performance.

Diana Holman

Coppelia runs until Saturday. For tickets go to or call 02380 711811.