By Nina Pinzarrone
August Bournonville created the three-act ballet Napoli in 1842, inspired by a trip to Italy with his close friend Hans Christian Andersen (whose diaries contributed to the libretto). In Naples, Bournonville stayed in the Santa Lucia port and swam in the gulf (the settings for Act 1), visited Capri’s Blue Grotto (Act 2), and visited the Monte Vergine shrine and danced the tarantella with peasants (Act 3). Bournonville assigned sections of the ballet’s score to four composers—Niels W. Gade (known as the father of Danish music), Edvard Helsted, Holger Simon Paulli, and Hans C. Lumbye—and he himself suggested several of the musical themes.
Napoli’s score includes several dance/musical forms:
- Barcarolle: Act 1; Act 3’s pas de six adagio (Helsted). A lilting 6/8 or 12/8 piece imitating Venetian gondolier songs; an arpeggiated (the notes of a chord played in quick succession, rather than simultaneously, producing a harp-like effect) triplet bass line suggests a boat’s gentle rocking. The melody line tends to be repetitive, limited in range. Useful for port de bras or plié exercises.
- Polacca or polonaise: beginning of Act 3’s pas de six (Helsted). A 3/4 Polish dance dating from 1573. Moderate tempo, 6-count (2-bar) melodic phrases, strong rhythm. In the 19th century, ballet composers expanded the form into multiple contrasting sections to highlight individual dancers. Useful for grands battements, sauts de basque, grand allegro, and polonaise walks for children’s class.
- Tarantella: Act 3 (Paulli). A 6/8 Italian couple dance with the musical effect of perpetual motion, featuring repeated notes, melodic leaps, scale passages, arpeggios, and 16-bar sections in major or minor tonalities. Napoli’s tarantella has more than 20 sections; three use folk melodies Bournonville heard in Italy. Useful for frappés, spring points, jumps, gallops, and character class.
Nina Pinzarrone, pianist at San Francisco Ballet since 1992, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Illinois and has recorded seven CDs for ballet class.