Libretto by Theophile Gautier on a theme by Heinrich Heine
Choreography after Jean Coralli,
Jules Perrot and Marius
Staged by Kevin McKenzie
Music by Adolphe Adam, orchestrated
by John Lanchbery
Scenery by Gianni Quaranta
Costumes by Anna Anni
Lighting by Jennifer Tipton
Act I: The ballet
is set in the vineyard country bordering the Rhine. Hilarion, the village
huntsman and a gamekeeper to the court, returns from his early morning
chores and pauses before a neighboring cottage—the home of Giselle,
with whom he is in love. Villagers pass by on their way to the vineyards,
where they will harvest the last of the grapes before the Wine Festival.
Count Albrecht arrives with his squire and enters a cottage opposite
Giselle’s. He emerges dressed as a peasant, submits his disguise
to the squire’s inspection, and dismisses him. Hilarion has witnessed
this exchange and is puzzled that the squire should show such deference
to this youth, who is known to the villager as a fellow peasant named
Loys. Loys excuses himself from joining the grape pickers so that he
can be alone with Giselle. He swears eternal love, and she takes the
traditional test with a daisy—“he loves me, he loves me
not.” When it appears the answer will be “not,” she
throws the flower away; Loys retrieves it and, by surreptitiously discarding
a petal, comes up with the answer “he loves me.” Hilarion
interrupts, protesting that he, and not Loys, truly loves Giselle. A
quarrel ensues, and Hilarion’s suspicions deepen as Loys instinctively
reaches for the sword that, as a nobleman, he is accustomed to wearing.
The villagers return, and Giselle invites them to join in a dance to
celebrate the harvest. Her mother, Berthe, interrupts and warns her
that her life may be endangered if she overexerts herself by dancing.
She is struck by a momentary hallucination of her daughter in death.
She sees her as a wili, a restless spirit who has died with her love
A horn sounds in the distance, and Loys recognizes it as coming from
the hunting party of the prince of Courland. As Loys hastily departs,
Hilarion breaks into Loys’ cottage. Refreshments are served to
the hunters, and the prince’s daughter, Bathilde, gives Giselle
a gold necklace when she learns they are both engaged to be married.
After the royal party has returned to the hunt, Hilarion emerges from
Loys’ cottage with a hunting horn and a sword, further evidence
that the supposed peasant is, in fact, a nobleman.
The villagers return and proclaim Giselle the queen of the Wine Festival.
Hilarion interrupts to denounce Loys as an impostor. When Loys denies
the charges and threatens the gamekeeper with his sword, Hilarion blows
the hunting horn, a signal for the prince to return. Loys is exposed
as an impostor when Bathilde reveals that he is her fiancé, Count
Albrecht. The shock of learning of Albrecht’s duplicity is too
great for Giselle’s frail constitution. Her mind becomes unhinged,
and she dies of a broken heart—her love unrequited.
ACT II: The scene is laid in a clearing in the forest
near Giselle’s grave. The wilis are summoned by their queen, Myrta,
to attend the ceremonies that will initiate Giselle into their sisterhood.
Their love unrequited, they can find no rest. Their spirits are forever
destined to roam the earth from midnight to dawn, vengefully trapping
any male who enters their domain and forcing him to dance to his death.
Hilarion, in search of Giselle, meets his death at their hands. Albrecht
arrives to leave flowers on Giselle’s grave. He too is trapped
and commanded to dance until death. Giselle resolves to protect him.
She dances with him until the clock strikes four, at which hour the
wilis lose their power. Albrecht is rescued from death.