A copy of La Dame aux Camellias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, was among the objects displayed at the Splendour and Misery. Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910 exhibition held at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The exhibition was designed by the opera director Robert Carsen. In the rooms lined with expensive fabrics – such as had lined courtesans’ boudoirs – one could admire, for instance, a ‘pleasure chair’ constructed for Queen Victoria’s son, or Henri Gervex’s naked Rolla spread out on her bed. Tarts, demi mondaines, grandes horizontals of the second half of the nineteenth century inspired the artists – they embodied the dream of freedom, as well as its price. As Kees van Dongen said, ‘they knew life in all its expressions.’
The Lady of the Camellias is one of John Neumeier’s most famous ballets. It was Neumeier who associated the romantic love of Marguerite and Armand with the musical quintessence of Romanticism: the music of Fryderyk Chopin. Created in 1978 in Stuttgart, The Lady of the Camellias has been staged by the select few ballet companies. It regularly features in the repertoire of the Hamburg Ballet, while also figuring in those of Opera de Paris, the American Ballet Theatre in New York, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and La Scala in Milan. In each of those venues, The Lady of the Camellias has been presented against the backdrop of its signature scenography deisgned by the outstanding German stage designer Jürgen Rose.
In his ballet story, the choreographer uses the Chinese box narrative structure – the protagonists Marguerite Gautier and Armand Duval meet in the opera during a performance of Manon Lescaut. It is a double wink to the audience: Manon Lescaut also tells the story of a courtesan, and the opera house itself, as a venue, is an important point on the prostitution map of various registers – courtesans at the height of their careers displayed their new dresses and jewels there, meanwhile ballet was called at the time ‘an exposition of girls for sale’. Neumeier’s choreography shows the full scale of passion – in Chopin’s music we find both the sadness resulting from his illness, as well as the joy and frivolity of the Parisian society he frequented – the Paris where ‘pleasures pass us by, calling out to us.’
Choreographing The Lady of the Camellias, Neumeier used a number of pieces by Fryderyk Chopin, including Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor, Fantasy on Polish Themes in A major, Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in E flat major, among many others. The compositions will be performed live by pianists Krzysztof Jabłoński and Marek Bracha, accompanied by the Orchestra of the Polish National Opera conducted by Grzegorz Nowak. The Warsaw production of The Lady of the Camellias has been developed in collaboration with Neumeier and his three assistants, Kevin Haigen, Janusz Mazoń, and Radik Zaripov.
45 minutes before each performance, Teatr Wielki-Polish National Opera will host an introductory talk at the Main Foyer.
The Lady of the Camellias
Ballet by John Neumeier in two acts with a prologue
Polish premiere: 20 April 2018
Polish National Ballet, Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera
Choreography and lighting design: John Neumeier
Music: Fryderyk Chopin
Conductor: Grzegorz Nowak
Stage design: Jürgen Rose
Assistant choreographers: Kevin Haigen, Janusz Mazoń, Radik Zaripov