Ballet Divertissements from Operas: Part 1
by Nina Pinzarrone
Ballet divertissements featuring the corps de ballet, soloists, and small ensembles were integral to 19th-century grand opera productions. These musical interludes—occurring at Act 3’s beginning, or during Act 1—enhance the story by using tunes that illustrate the setting, depicting weddings (Rossini’s William Tell) and masked balls (Mozart’s Don Giovanni), and providing pauses from dramatic action.
Opera divertissements are a wonderful source of music for ballet class, classical variations, and recitals. They often feature regular eight-bar phrases, simple melodies and harmonies, uncomplicated two-voice textures, and melodic repetition. Most are perfect for allegro, particularly small and medium jumps.
Here are some useful examples.
“The Four Seasons,” I Vespri Siciliani, Act 3, by Giuseppe Verdi. The Danza from “Winter” includes a bouncy 2/4, perfect for small jumps; an allegro 6/8, which, thanks to its prominent upbeat, is ideal for glissades, sissonnes, and pas de chats; and a presto 2/4, also with a prominent upbeat and good for small or medium jumps. In 1979, Jerome Robbins choreographed his one-act ballet The Four Seasons to this divertissement, with additions from Verdi’s I Lombardi and Il Trovatore.
“The Skaters,” Le Prophète, Act 3, by Giacomo Meyerbeer. Sections A (Valse) and B (Pas de la Redowa) are both perfect examples of a redowa or mazurka rhythm, and very suitable for pointe work due to the emphasis on each individual beat of the bar. The rhythm also allows for a hold on the measure’s second beat. In 1937, Sir Frederick Ashton used “The Skaters,” with additions from Meyerbeer’s L’Étoile du Nord, to create the ballet Les Patineurs.
A redowa is a Czech folk and/or ballroom dance in 3/4, characterized by leaping and turning waltz steps. The basic redowa step includes a long reaching step on the bar’s first or second beat, followed by two small leaping steps.
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 nine CDs for ballet class.