Giselle is the ghost-filled tragedy about a beautiful young peasant girl who falls in love with a disguised nobleman named Albrecht. When his identity is revealed by his rival, Hilarion, Giselle loses her mind and dies of heartbreak. After her premature death, Giselle’s ghost protects her lover from the vengeance of a group of evil female spirits called Wilis.
Giselle, which was first performed in 1841 in Paris (and in Warsaw in 1848), is the ultimate romantic ballet, a product of the French romantics longing for an idealised female presence on the ballet stage. This vision set a standard for all the romantic ballets to come. Having women dance en pointe was meant to serve this very purpose; an impressive dance technique inspiring great art, putting the revered female figure at its centre. For this 2022 production, Polish National Ballet have meticulously recreated their designs from 1968 and 1976 by the late Andrzej Kreutz Majewski, whose sets and costumes excellently convey the romantic atmosphere of the French masterpiece. Based on the canonical choreography by Marius Petipa, the production is overseen by Maina Gielgud, once a star of European ballet stages, later the head of the Australian Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet. Danced by some of the greatest ballerinas of all time, Giselle is pastoral charm, touching drama, and ephemerality to savour at Christmas on OperaVision.
Giselle - a young peasant girl
Duke Albrecht of Silesia - in disguise as peasant Loys
Hilarion - gamekeeper in love with Giselle
Wilfried - menservant of Duke Albrecht
Carlos Martín Pérez
Prince of Courtland
Bathilde - his dauther and Duke Albrecht’s fiancée
Berthe - mother of Giselle
Peasant Pas de deux
Diogo de Oliveira
Myrtha - the queen of the Willis
Polish National Ballet
Polish National Opera Orchestra
Sets and costumes
Andrzej Kreutz Majewski
Set design adaptation
Costume design adaptation
It is a lovely autumn day in Thuringia. Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a young nobleman, has disguised himself as a villager named Loys, to court Giselle, a shy, beautiful peasant girl. He sees no harm in this flirtation with Giselle, who loves to dance but has a frail heart. Hilarion, a local gamekeeper, is in love with her and is suspicious of Loys. He tries to warn her, but she ignores his warnings.
Giselle’s mother, Berthe, is protective of her daughter and believes Hilarion is a better match. When she sees her daughter dancing with Loys, she orders her back home concerned for the strain it puts on her delicate health. Berthe reminds Giselle and the villagers of the tale of the Wilis, the ghostly spirits of young brides who loved to dance and were betrayed by their lovers on their wedding day, dying of broken hearts. Now they haunt the forest after midnight to take revenge on any man on their way.
Wilfred, Albrecht’s manservant, hears the hunting horn. Concerned that his master will be discovered wooing a peasant girl, tries to find him and warn of the approach of the hunting party. The Prince of Courtland arrives with his daughter Bathilde, who is engaged to Albrecht. The villagers welcome the party, offer them drinks, and perform several dances. Giselle is overawed by Bathilde’s beautiful clothes. Bathilde is charmed by the sweet Giselle and offers her a necklace as a gift, unaware that they are engaged to the same man.
Bathilde and her father are invited into Berthe’s cottage to rest. The villagers celebrate their harvest, and Giselle is crowned the Harvest Queen. Giselle and Albrecht resume their dancing, but Hilarion interrupts the festivities. He has discovered Albrecht's sword and shows it as proof that he is really a nobleman. Using the hunting horn, Hilarion calls back the party of noblemen. Surprised Albrecht has no time to hide and greets Bathilde as his fiancée.
Giselle is shocked of her lover’s deception. She is overcome with grief and recalls all the tender moments she shared with Loys. She dances wildly, briefly recognising her mother first and then Albrecht, before her heart gives out and Giselle dies in his arms. A distraught Albrecht is dragged away by Wilfred while Berthe weeps over her daughter’s body.
Late at night in a dark forest, Hilarion mourns at Giselle's grave but is frightened away by the impending arrival of the Wilis. As midnight strikes, Myrtha, their merciless queen, leads their nightly dance ritual before rousing Giselle's spirit from her grave. Albrecht, full of remorse, arrives to lay flowers on Giselle's tomb. Her spirit appears to him, Albrecht tries to embrace her, but his arms remain empty, he begs her forgiveness.
Meanwhile, the Wilis have cornered Hilarion, they force him to dance until near death before drowning him in the lake. Then seeing Albrecht, they turn on him, sentencing him to dance until he dies. He pleads with Myrtha for mercy, but she coldly refuses. Giselle begs for his life to be spared but is forced to make him dance with her until he collapses from exhaustion. However, the power of her forgiveness and love saves him. As dawn breaks, the Wilis lose their power and return to their graves. Giselle also slowly vanishes back into her tomb. Albrecht is left alone with his sorrow; the memory of Giselle will sustain with him for the rest of his life.