Coppélia is a sentimental comic ballet that was based upon two macabre stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann, Der Sandmann (The Sandman), and Die Puppe (The Doll). The ballet premiered on May 25 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial de l´Opéra, with Giuseppina Bozzachi in the principal role of Swanhilda. Its first flush of success was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris, but eventually it became the most-performed ballet at the Opera Garnier.
The story of Coppélia concerns a mysterious and faintly diabolical inventor, Doctor Coppélius[1] who has made a life-size dancing doll. It is so life-like that Franz, a village swain is infatuated with it, setting aside his true heart's desire, Swanilde, who in Act II shows him his folly, by dressing as the doll and pretending to come to life. The festive wedding-day divertissements in the village square that occupy Act III are often deleted in modern danced versions, though one of the entrées was the first czardas presented on a ballet stage.
If Mary Shelley's Frankenstein represents the dark side of the theme of scientist as creator of life, then Coppelia is the light side. If Giselle is a tragedy set in a peasant village, then Coppélia is a comedy in the same setting. The part of Franz was danced en travestie, a convention that pleased the male members of the Jockey-Club de Paris and was retained in Paris until after World War II.