Patrice Bart has made a career out of recasting traditional ballets(among other activities). His Swan Lake and Nutcracker are among my favorites. He tends to make these ballets more interesting to contemporary audiences by making the storyline more appealing to adults as well as infusing the ballets with more dancing by both men and women, correcting many of the historical imbalances. This activity is not as intrusive as some might think, since ballets have always been modified frequently throughout the centuries. Even Petipa was constantly altering his work. This is due, in part, to the complexity of the ballet medium, involving collaborations with many artists. It is never under the control of a single artist, putting it in contrast to some extent with musical composition.
Bart has created a real masterpiece with this version of Coppelia! While it still maintains its comical nature, he has also added a greater romantic, and at times, bittersweet component. This is an entirely classical ballet version; there is not a trace of modernity. First of all, to avoid confusion, let me point out that there is the addition of one main character who serves as competition to the love interest between Swanilda and Frantz. But the automaton builder is here called "Spalanzani" and the new love interest is "Coppelius", so we have a kind of "musical chairs" as far as the names of the characters go. But just keep in mind that the new love interest is called "Coppelius". The storyline here is definitely more robust, if not more confusing, but part of that confusion is that this is all new to us. It actually makes more sense than the idea of old Dr. Coppelius building a girl automaton to keep himself company. This also gives Bart the chance to introduce lots of new choreography, and Coppelius(danced by the fantastic, Jose Martinez) gives us plenty, including several adagios and other solos. Bart has also thrown in lots of other new solos by Frantz and Swanilda. All the dancing here has razor sharp technique with great balletic acting. Many of the scenes from the traditional version have been included in this, including the "shaking of the wheat" scene.(Just a note on this scene: there is actually some logic to the "shaking of the wheat". In agricultural communities, there was no time during the busy planting and harvesting periods for socializing, so courtship had to be done during the growing season. So, to be in love, it was expected that at least one growing season would have passed, so the couple might be in love by the time the wheat was mature and rattled when shaken.) But here, the wheat is not shaken; it is just admired.
This version has only two acts, but most of the dances in the usual last act have been included in this version's first act(with the notable absence of "Prayer", which really doesn't fit in this version). This make better sense, since why would the Coppelia storyline have the town celebrating the casting of a new bell?(The usual last act is called "The Dance of the Hours" because the bell chimes the hours for the town.)
The second act has many similarities to the usual second act, with dances of the automatons, and Swanilda doing the Scottish and Spanish dances. It also includes additional dances by Coppelius and Frantz. One of the differences here is that Swanilda is acutally invited and doesn't have to sneak in, but she brings her eight friends with her which upsets Spalanzani.
The ballet ends with a great romantic pas de deux with Swanilda and Frantz, with allusions to the emotional turmoil that transpired(Coppelius appears to drive this idea home). The scene is given a dreamlike, surreal look.
The music used in this ballet is mostly the music from Delibes' Coppelia but Bart has added music from some of Delibes' other works, and his choices are excellent, fitting the mood and action of the ballet perfectly. There is nothing unusual or disturbing about this, since it has been done throughout ballet history, even in such ballets as Swan Lake, Giselle, and Don Quixote, which were pieced together from the composer's other works, as well as including music by other composers(the peasant pas de deux in Giselle is not by Adolphe Adam, and Don Quixote contains a lot of music by Dvorak, and they never even get attribution!).
The DVD also includes a bonus feature which consists of interviews of Bart and the principle dancers, explaining this version.
The ballet is said to be 83 minutes long, with the bonus being 30 minutes. This is wrong! The ballet is 95 minutes long.
I have one slight problem with this DVD version. Swanilda has 8 friends and Frantz has 4. There are also 3 main automatons that dance. These dancers are performing solos, but nowhere in the accompanying booklet or in the credits on the DVD are they given mention! We do not find out who they are. There is no good reason for this. These dancers are performing important parts in this ballet and their names should be mentioned! I won't complain about the 24 mazurka dancers who are also not mentioned(yes, the traditional mazurkas and czardas are included in this version).
We are told that this was Bart's last work: he is retiring from the Paris Opera Ballet. How sad! Have we heard the last from Bart? I hope not.