[ji-zel; Fr. zhee-zel]

Giselle is a ballet by Adolphe Adam. It has 2 acts, 2 scenes, with a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier and was originally choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot (the principal Ballerina's dances). The choreography of nearly all modern productions derives from the revivals of Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet (1884, 1899, 1903).

Giselle was first presented by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique, Paris, France, on June 28, 1841.


In the first act, a young, innocent village maiden named Giselle is in love with a man she knows only as Loys. In reality, the man is Albrecht, a nobleman disguised as a peasant, who is betrothed to Bathilde, daughter of the Prince. When Giselle discovers the deceit, she is inconsolable and goes mad, then dies; one version says she dies of a broken heart while another says she commits suicide in her madness.

In the second act, her undying love for Albrecht saves him from the wicked magic of the wilis, vampiric ghosts of betrothed girls who were betrayed by their lovers and died before their wedding day. Though their leader, Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, forces Albrecht to dance again and again, Giselle intervenes long enough to spare his life and allow him to survive until the dawn. At sunrise, the wilis must return to their grave; Giselle must return as well but not before showing Albrecht that she forgives him for his treachery. The two pledge their love to each other and she descends back into her grave. Because her love for Albrecht has transcended Death, Giselle is freed from the Wilis' power and so her soul ascends to Heaven. Albrecht must live out his life without her.


  • Duke Albrecht of Silesia, in attire of a villager
  • Prince of Courland
  • Wilfride, the Duke's squire
  • Hilarion, the game-keeper
  • An old peasant man
  • Bathilde, the Duke's fiancée
  • Giselle, a peasant girl
  • Berthe, Giselle's mother
  • Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis
  • Zulme, Moyna, wilis

Vinegatherers, Ladies and Noblemen, Valets, Hunters, Peasants, Musicians, Children, Wilis.

A varied past

The version passed down to the present day was staged by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet (today the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet). Petipa staged his definitive revival of Giselle in 1884 for the Ballerina Maria Gorshenkova, but made his final touches to the work for Anna Pavlova's debut in 1903. It is said that the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet still dance the ballet in Petipa's original design nearly unchanged. Petipa's final work on Giselle was notated in the Stepanov method of choreographic notation around the turn of the 20th century, and is today held as part of the famous Sergeyev Collection in the Harvard University Library Theatre Collection.

Giselle passed out of the repertory of the old Paris Opéra in 1867, and did not return to the western stage until Petipa's definitive version was performed by the original Ballet Russe in 1910 at the Palais Garnier.

The role of Giselle is one of the most sought-after in ballet, as it demands both technical perfection and outstanding grace and lyricism, as well as great dramatic skill. In the first act Giselle has to convey the innocence and love of a country girl, the heartbreak of being betrayed. In the second act Giselle must seem otherworldly, yet loving. Some of the most accomplished dancers to perform this role include Carlotta Grisi (for whom Théophile Gautier created the role), Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spesivtseva, Galina Ulanova, Alicia Markova, Alicia Alonso, Chan Hon Goh, Beryl Goldwyn, Karen Kain, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland, Irina Kolpakova, Ekaterina Maximova, Natalya Bessmertnova, Carla Fracci, Altynai Asylmuratova, Alessandra Ferri, Eva Evdokimova,Diana Vishneva, Svetlana Zakharova, Alina Cojocaru and Nina Ananiashvili. Famous Albrechts include Lucien Petipa (creator of the role), Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Erik Bruhn, Mikhail Lavrovsky, Vladimir Vassiliev, Vladimir Malakhov, Vladimir Muravlev.


  • The Variation of Giselle in waltz rhythm from the second act Grand Pas de Deux was written by Léon Minkus in 1866 at the behest of Marius Petipa for the Ballerina Adèle Grantzow. Minkus fashioned the variation from Adam's leitmotif for Albrecht and Giselle (also known as the Love Theme or the He Loves me, He loves me not theme). Today this variation is performed in every production of Giselle.
  • The famous Pas Seul or Variation of Giselle from the first act was also written by Léon Minkus at the behest of Petipa in 1887 for the Ballerina Emma Bessone. The variation was originally the property of Bessone and was not performed for many years (specially composed variations were often the legal property of the Ballerina they were created for in Imperial Russia). It was resurrected by the Ballerina Olga Spessivtseva in the early 1910s, and is included in every production of the ballet today.
  • The so-called Peasant Pas de Deux was interpolated into Act I of Giselle at the last minute right before the ballet's original premiere for the Ballerina Nathalie Fitzjames. As mistress of an influential patron of the Paris Opera, her request to participate in the production was granted, though due to another engagement Adolphe Adam was unable to compose the music for her desired number. Instead, an already existing suite of music known as Souvenirs de Ratisbonne by the composer Friedrich Burgmüller was used (Souvenirs de Ratisbonne translates from French as Memories of Regensburg, interestingly, this is where Burgmüller was born). Also for the original production, the Marche des Vignerons (a number which traditionally occurs before Giselle's famous variation in Act I) was interpolated from another work as well, also to the music of Burgmüller. Both interpolations have been included in every production of Giselle to the present day.
  • In 1884 Petipa revived Giselle especially for the ballerina Mariia Gorshenkova, and it is this version which is the definitive staging from which all versions of the ballet are now based. For this revival, Petipa commissioned Ludwig Minkus to score a supplemental Pas de Deux for Act I to be danced by Giselle and Albrecht. Though this Pas was retained in the St. Petersburg productions of Giselle, it did not become part of the traditional score for the ballet and it is no longer performed, largely due to the fact that that the Ballet Russe's production did not include it (the Ballet Russe's production served as the foundation for nearly all western productions). Minkus' music for this Pas can be heard on the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra's recording of Giselle, conducted by Algis Zhuraitis. (This recording was only released onto LP in 1967 and was never re-released. See Melodiya SRB4118 1967, 2 LPs.)
  • For Petipa's 1884 revival Minkus reorchestrated and re-edited much of Adolphe Adam's score. This version of the music is still in use by Russian companies, most notably the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet. The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra recorded this version twice. (See Melodiya, SRB4118, 1967, 2 LPs, conducted by Algis Zhuraitis) and (Pilz, 441003-2 and 441004-2 1989, also conducted by Algis Zhuraitis. This recording is also available in the 6 CD boxed-set of famous ballet music titled Original Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra.)
  • In 1978, the choreographer Gerald Arpino used Minkus's rarely heard Act I Pas de Deux for his ballet L'air d'espirit staged for the Joffrey Ballet.
  • The famous conductor Richard Bonynge recorded Adolphe Adam's complete, unedited 1841 score for Giselle in 1987 with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. (See 2 CDs, Decca 425 185-2.)
  • The ballet Giselle was one of the main focuses of Angel during the episode "Waiting in the Wings". Summer Glau performed the part of Giselle.


Act I

  • no.1 Introduction
  • no.2 Scène première
  • no.3 Entrée d'Albrecht
  • no.4 Entrée de Giselle
  • no.5 Scène d'amour
  • interpolation - Pas de deux pour Mlle. Maria Gorshenkova (Ludwig Minkus; 1884; this piece was only included in Imperial-era productions)
  • no.6 Scène d'Hilarion
  • no.7 Entrée de la vendageurs
  • interpolation - Pas de cinq pour Mlle. Carlotta Grisi (Cesare Pugni; 1850; only included for Grisi's performance)
  • no.8 Valse
  • no.9 Scène dansante
  • no.10 Le récit de Berthe
  • no.11 Le chasse royale et scène
  • no.12 Scène d'Hilarion
  • no.13 Marche des vignerons
  • interpolation - Variaton pour Mme. Emma Bessone (aka Pas seul) (Ludwig Minkus; 1887)
  • interpolation - Pas de deux pour Mlle. Nathalie Fitzjames (aka Peasant pas de deux)

Fashioned from Souvenirs de Ratisbonne by Friedrich Burgmüller, c.1841 –
a. Entrée
b. Andante
c. Variation
d. Variation
interpolation - supplemental female variation (Mariinsky Theatre staging) (Cesare Pugni; from the ballet Cupid's Prank; 1890.)
e. Variation
f. Coda

  • no.14 ''Galop générale
  • no.15 Grand scène dramatique: La folie et la mort de Giselle

Act II

  • no.16 Introduction et scène
  • no.17 Entrée et danse de Myrthe
  • no.18 Entrée des Wilis
  • no.19 Grand pas des Wilis
  • no.20 Entrée de Giselle
  • no.21 Entrée d'Albrecht
  • no.22 L'apparition de Giselle
  • no.23 La mort d'Hilarion
  • no.24 Scène des Wilis
  • no.25 Grand pas d'action

a. Grand adage
b. Variation de Giselle
c. Variation d'Albert
interpolation - Variation pour Mlle. Adèle Grantzow (Ludwig Minkus; 1867)
d. Coda

  • no.26 Scène finale


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