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Riccardo Drigo was born in Padua, Italy on June 30, 1846. He studied with Jorich and Bresciani in Padua, and with Antonio Buzzolla at the Venice Conservatory. Before he left for Russia in 1878, he had established a reputation as a composer and conductor in Padua where his opera Don Pedro di Portogallo was performed in 1868.
His first ballet composition was for a series of additional new dances for Marius Petipa’s 1886 revival of Jules Perrot’s Esmeralda, including the now-famous pas de deux Diana and Acteon. This was followed by the scores for Lev Ivanov’s The Enchanted Forest (1887), Petipa’s three-act ballet The Talisman (1889), and Ivanov’s The Magic Flute (1893) and The Awakening of Flora (1894).
He was commissioned by the Prince of Monaco to write the score for an opera-ballet La Cote d’Azur, which received its world premiere in Monte Carlo in 1895. For the coronation festivities of Tsar Nicholas II in Moscow in 1896, he wrote the score for Petipa’s The Pearl. In 1899, he provided the music for the now-famous interpolated pas de deux for Petipa’s revival of Le Corsaire, expressly for the ballerina Pierina Legnani, followed by Les Millions d’Arlequin (1900). In 1904, he wrote the score for one of Petipa’s last creations, The Rose and the Butterfly, and a pas de trois inserted into Sergei and Nicholas Legat’s production of The Fairy Doll, later to be danced by Anna Pavlova in Les Coquetteries de Columbine, choreographed by Ivan Clustine.
He remained in Russia for forty years, becoming the conductor of the Italian Opera in St. Petersburg in 1879, from which post he resigned in 1886 to become conductor and composer to the Imperial Ballet, a post he held until 1917. He worked with most of the leading dancers and choreographers in Russia at that time, and conducted the first performances of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and The Nutcracker (1892), as well as the first performance of Glazunov’s Raymonda (1898).
During his time in Russia, Riccardo Drigo made occasional visits to Italy, and in 1908, his ballet Le Porte-bonheur, choreographed by L. Tornelli, was given its world premiere in Milan. His last-known ballet composition in Russia was The Romance of the Rosebud (1919), after which, dissatisfied with life in Russia after the revolution, he returned to Padua in 1920, where he lived until his death on October 1, 1930, age 84.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie;MacMillan Publishers, Ltd.,1980
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet, Second Edition, by Horst Koegler; Oxford University Press, London, New York, Melbourne, 1982
Edward Pask, Archivist of The Australian Ballet