Coppélia and The Nutcracker: Classical Ballet’s Dynamic Duo

Boston Ballet Staff

Act III opening of Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker by Liza Voll

Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker

Photo credit: Liza Voll

From magical characters to high-spirited music, you’ll be surprised by how much these beloved ballets have in common.

Misa Kuranaga and Boyko Dossev in George Balanchine's Coppélia © The George Balanchine Trust

Photo credit: Liza Voll

Patrick Yocum as the Nutcracker in Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker

Photo credit: Liza Voll

Misa Kuranaga and Boyko Dossev in George Balanchine's Coppélia © The George Balanchine Trust

Photo credit: Liza Voll

Patrick Yocum as the Nutcracker in Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker

Photo credit: Liza Voll

Recent adaptations of Coppélia and The Nutcracker are a part of this season—read on to see why these classical gems go together like peanut butter and jelly.
 
1. Both stories stem from the same imagination. The tales in these ballets come from books penned by E. T. A. Hoffman (1776–1822), a German writer, composer, and painter. Born at the height of the German Romantic movement, Hoffman wrote stories that blurred the line between fantasy and reality. His thrilling short story Der Sandmann inspired the plot of Coppélia, a romantic comedy involving mistaken identities and just a sprinkle of magic. His story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King formed the basis of Alexandre Dumas’ adaptation, nearly identical in plot, and later gave way to the enchanting holiday ballet we know today.
 
2. Penned by the same author, it’s no wonder the two ballets share character archetypes. In the beginning of each story, we meet a mysterious toymaker, someone who uses their magical powers to establish a setting for the protagonist’s adventures. From Dr. Coppélius’ curious inventions to Herr Drosselmeier’s fantastic tricks, both toymakers stir up larger-than-life journeys for those around them. And of course, both stories have their heroines; Swanilda saves her fiancé by distracting Dr. Coppélius, while Clara saves the Nutcracker Prince by distracting the evil Mouse King. If you find yourself in the audience tapping your chin, wondering why the characters in these ballets seem so familiar, remember: it’s all because of that one German guy. 

Finale of Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker by Liza Voll

Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker

Photo credit: Liza Voll

3. It doesn't take a music buff to notice the composers’ similar musical styles. Both scores were written during the late-19th century: Coppélia’s by Léo Delibes, and The Nutcracker’s by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Before this time, composers rarely wrote music specifically for ballets. Delibes and Tchaikovsky paved the way, composing the first major ballet scores. Tchaikovsky, the younger of the two composers, was heavily influenced by Delibes’ work, which becomes apparent when you listen to these scores. You might notice that they both feel light and elegant, with hummable melodies throughout.  
 
4. You’re in for some of the most exciting and demanding choreography in history. Classical ballets like these typically showcase impressive technique, featuring difficult pointe work, complicated sequences, and remarkable leaps and turns. The final acts of Coppélia and The Nutcracker include spectacular celebrations featuring numerous variations. The variations grow increasingly grand, culminating in a pas de deux from two of the main characters. These whirlwind endings highlight the immense talent onstage and provide a special treat for audiences before the curtains close.
 
We’re willing to bet that if you love one of these ballets, you’ll also love the other. Fans of The Nutcracker will find its lighthearted, romantic counterpart in Coppélia, a laugh-out-loud ballet filled with loveable characters and just a hint of mischief. And for fans of the Balanchine classic, you won’t want to miss this season’s The Nutcracker. The holiday tradition takes the magic of Coppélia up a notch, expanding audiences’ imaginations with its colorful characters and iconic score.  

The Nutcracker

Nov 29–Dec 30, 2018

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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