I do not recall a happier, more intelligent, more delectably danced performance of Covent Garden’s Coppélia in many years. On Friday night Marianela Nuñez was Swanilda, Thiago Soares her Frantz and William Tuckett the Coppélius, and this ballet was made bright and joyous as it has not been since its earliest showings, when Nadia Nerina and David Blair gloriously led it.
Nuñez is as near perfect a Swanilda as I hope to see. She has an easy, dazzling technique, and what seems an innate musical sensibility: a phrase, a pose, is shaped by the score as Nuñez sails effortlessly on the flood of melodies that Delibes gives Swanilda. She comes on stage and greets the world of the production, her audience, her dances, her music, with a shining happiness, as if welcoming beloved friends.
Some ballet companies view Coppélia as a vehicle for a soubrette. Swanilda is best taken by a pur-sang classic ballerina: Danilova, Pamela May, Nerina, Beriosova, gave the defining performances at Covent Garden in postwar times. Marianela Nuñez plays every moment with a spiritual as well as a physical grace. Yes, Swanilda is a peasant girl fighting for her beloved, and she can romp and play tricks, but we see all this through the prism of the old academic dance, and Nuñez’s technical rectitude, the charm and generosity of her classic style, speak of central moral truths about the dance. It is an interpretation of greatness.
Thiago Soares was her Frantz. Everything this ardent dancer performs is bright with energy, with emotional logic: not a step, not a gesture but has its reason, which we are brilliantly shown. He truly illuminates his roles, knows clearly their how and why. His Frantz is without precedent in my long experience of this ballet. The character has a roving eye, an untrustworthy heart (which will, we hope, be cured by the events we watch). Soares’ Frantz is dashing and fickle and, for all his faults, we like him because the interpretation has such verve, such merry wit, and such a way with the character. Soares charms the role as he charms Swanilda and charms the audience. It is a masterly reading of a part that can often seem pallid.
For William Tuckett as Coppélius, no less praise. Here is an old man who meddles with the occult, is eccentric but no fool, and has a vein of barmy humour: Tuckett plays him with great skill. From the rest of the cast, liveliest dancing, and from Alexandra Ansanelli, a most elegant solo as Dawn.
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