Photo from 1998 production, taken by Bob Shomler.
Like Swan Lake, Giselle and La Sylphide, Coppelia is one of the great classics that is a standard in every ballet troupe's repertoire. Ballet San Jose has trotted it out several times in my lifetime, most recently in 2004, I think, and it has become one of my favorites.
In a small peasant village, Doctor Coppelius works day and night on creating automaton dolls, striving to create a perfect human replica. His latest creation, a doll called Coppelia,is so beautiful and lifelike that when he puts her out on the balcony to 'read' in the bright sun, the town's most eligible bachelor, Franz Schmeterlink, tries to flirt with the lovely maiden. Naturally, his current love Swanhilda is less than pleased and the entire first act has the two of them fighting in the middle of the village square, right in the middle of a harvest festival. As the day draws to a close, and Swanhilda catches Franz looking at Coppelia one final time, she and her friends decide to sneak into Doctor Coppelius' workshop so Swanhilda can tell her rival to leave her man alone.
The workshop is dark, but the girls soon discover Coppelia's secret, and burst into giggles. They wind up the other dolls, and soon knights, clowns, and exotic foreigners are jumping and dancing around the room. But as the girls are exploring, the Doctor returns and kicks everyone out except Swanhilda, who hides in Coppelia's room. While she's hiding, Franz appears and begs the Doctor to allow him to marry Coppelia. He agrees, but tells Franz they must drink and celebrate. The 'wine' Franz drinks is laced with a sleeping potion, and soon Franz is unconscious, allowing Coppelius to draw out the boy's life essence and feed it into his doll. It seems to work, because Coppelia's movements become more and more lifelike as Doctor Coppelius 'feeds' her Franz's essence. She dances for him, but it's not Coppelia – it's Swanhilda in the doll's clothing. She helps Franz escape and makes a mess of the Doctor's lab, setting off all of his dolls and revealing the real Coppelia in a lifeless heap on the floor.
The final act is the wedding of Franz and Swanhilda, which has a ton of traditional folk dances and lovely dancing, but since I'm a very story-driven person I tend to space out a lot during this act.
The dancing in this ballet is beautiful, and often quite whimsical since this is a comic ballet. In this production, there were a couple of moments in which Franz would lean in toward Swanhilda, as if to lead her in a pas de deux, and she lifts up her leg and kicks him in the face! Pretty fun, especially since physical comedy is not at all what you usually think of as part of ballet. Ever since I was a kid, my favorite scene was always when the dolls are brought to life in Act II, and I still think that the magic of the moment is the most memorable part of the ballet.
It's really a good ballet for kids, come to think of it. I didn't see too many children in the audience, but I'm sure on the weekends there are a lot more of them running around.