La Perle (ballet)

La Perle

The first page of the illustrated libretto of La Perle. Taken from the souvenir program of the gala performed at the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow celebrating the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna. 1896.
Choreographer Marius Petipa
Music Riccardo Drigo
Libretto Marius Petipa
Based on La Pérégrina: Ballet de la Reine from Verdi's opera Don Carlos

29 May [O.S. 17 May] 1896
Imperial Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow

15 February [O.S. 3 February] 1898
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
Design décorOrest Allegri and Konstantin Ivanov
costumesIvan Vsevolozhsky
Genre Ballet-divertissement

La Perle (en. The Pearl) (ru. «Жемчужина» or «Прелестная жемчужина»; Zhemchuzhina or Prelestnaya Zhemchuzhina) (en. Pearl or Pretty Pearl) is a ballet-divertissement in one act, with libretto and choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Riccardo Drigo.[1]


La Perle was created by Marius Petipathe renowned Premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatresand the composer Riccardo Drigoprincipal conductor of ballet and Italian opera performances for the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres and director of music to the Imperial Balletas a lavish piece d'occasion for the gala given at the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow in celebration of the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Fydorovna. The ballet was first presented after a performance of scenes from Mikhail Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar on 29 May [O.S. 17 May] 1896.[1][2] The cast for the premiere of La Perle at the coronation gala of 1896 featured the highest ranking dancers of both the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg and of the Ballet of the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow.

While the ballet was in the early stages of production, a list of potential dancers for inclusion in the cast was drawn up for review by a committee responsible for the coronation and its subsequent celebrations. Among those chosen for consideration in the principal roles was Nicholas II's former mistress, the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinskaya. In light of the history between Kschessinskaya and the new Emperor, his mother the Dowager Empress Marie Fyodorovna demanded that the ballerina be removed from the cast, as it would be considered scandalous for Kschessinskaya to perform in front of the Emperor's new wife, the Empress Alexandra. When Kschessinskaya learned of this, she appealed to the Emperor's uncle, the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, whose influence reinstated the ballerina in the cast in spite of the fact that at this point the Ballet Master Petipa and the composer Drigo had completed all of the choreography and music. Petipa became extremely frustrated when he learned that he and Drigo were nonetheless required to compose a number for Kschessinskaya, which took the form of a classical pas de deux for a new character dubbed "La Perle jaune" (the Yellow Pearl) and her suitor, performed by the danseur Nikolai Legat.[3][4] Interestingly, Petipa's choice of name for Kschessinskaya's character may have been a slight to the ballerina, since unlike the other pearls in the ballet (white, pink and black), yellow pearls do not exist unless a white pearl's color has become tarnished with age.

La Perle was later transferred to the regular repertory of the Imperial Ballet, where it was first performed on 15 February [O.S. 3 February] 1898 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg. Marius Petipa would revive the ballet on only one occasion for a gala performance given at Petergof in 1900.[5] La Perle was performed often throughout the 1900s and was given its final performance in 1910.

The Music

Riccardo Drigo's score featured an off-stage chorus and a large orchestra consisting of nearly 100 musicians. Contemporary critics praised the score for its rich melodic content and orchestration.[4] Drigo would later admit in his memoirs that he found it challenging to compose the many solo variations for the ballerinas while still maintaining variety.[4] Unlike most ballets of the era that were produced as a piece d'occasion for Imperial celebrations, Drigo's score was never published.

The Russian pedagogue Konstantin Sergeyev utilized pieces from Drigo's score for La Perle for his class concert for the Vaganova Academy titled School of Classical Dance (or From Landé to Vaganova) (ru. «Школа классического танца (От Ланде до Вагановой)»), which is still performed today by students of the school during their annual graduation performances. The Pizzicato des Perles noires from Drigo's score for La Perle is also still heard as a female variation in the so-called Le Talisman pas de deux.


Marius Petipa's libretto was based on the scenario of the danced tableau La Pérégrina: Ballet de la Reine from Verdi's opera Don Carlos, which was never performed and was to have been choreographed by Petipa's brother Lucien.[6]

La Perle is set in a colossal subterranean grotto where the White Pearl, the most precious pearl on Earth, resides with her sister pearls of differing colors. The Genie of the Earth descends to the ocean floor in an attempt to abduct the White Pearl as an adornment for his crown. The King of the Corals comes to the White Pearl's aid by causing a battle between the elements of the earth and of the sea. The Genie of the Earth succeeds in capturing the White Pearl, and the King of the Corals thereupon orders all of the ocean denizens to salute the Genie of the Earth side by side with the White Pearl. In an apotheosis, the Triumph of Amphitrite and Poseidon is depicted.[2][7]

Photograph of the Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani costumed as the White Pearl. Moscow, 1896.

Original Cast

Role Moscow 1896
The White Pearl Pierina Legnani
The Genie of the Earth Pavel Gerdt
The King of the Corals Nikolai Aistov
The Pink Pearls Adelaide Giuri & Lyubov Roslavleva
The Black Pearls Anna Johansson & Claudia Kulichevskaya
Pas de deux of the Yellow Pearl Mathilde Kschessinskaya & Nikolai Legat[2]

Résumé of scenes and dances

Taken from the program for the coronation gala of 1896 and from Riccardo Drigo's memoirs.[2][4]

Divertissement-ballet in one act

interpolation: "La Perle jaune" pas de deux for Mathilde Kschessinskaya and Nikolai Legat

a. Andante
b. Variation I
c. Variation II
d. Coda
a. Entrée
b. Grand adage
c. Ballabile
d. Danse des Perles roses (Mlles. Giuri et Roslavleva)
e. Pizzicato des Perles noires (Mlles. Johansson et Kulichevskaya)
f. Variation
g. Variation
h. Variation du Génie de la terre (Mons. Gerdt)
i. Berceuse de la Perle blanche (Mlle. Legnani)
j. Grande valse brilliante


  1. 1 2 Garafola, Lynn (Spring 1992). The Diaries of Marius Petipa. Studies In Dance History, vol. III, no. 1.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Levenson, A.A. (1896). Imperial Coronation Program for the Gala Presentation at the Imperial Bolshoi Theater in Moscow 17 May 1896 on the occasion of the Holy Coronation of His Imperial Majesty the Sovereign Emperor Nikolai Aleksandrovich and Her Imperial Majesty the Sovereign Empress Aleksandra Feodorovna.
  3. Kschessinska, Mathilde (H.S.H. The Princess Romanovsky-Krassinsky) (1960). Souvenirs de la kschessinska. Librairie Plon.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Travaglia, Silvio (1929). Riccardo Drigo, l'uomo e l'artista. Guglielmo Zanibon.
  5. Pleshcheyev, Alexander Alexeyevich (1899). Наш балет, 1673-1899 (Our Ballet), 2nd supplemented edn. with forward by K.A. Skal'kovsky. Th. A. Pereyaslavtsev and A.A. pleshcheyev.
  6. Jürgensen, Knud Arne (1995). The Verdi Ballets. Istituto nazionale di studi verdiani. ISBN 978-8885065123.
  7. Petipa, Marius (1971). Мариус Петипа. Мате риалы. Воспоминания (Marius Petipa. Materials, Recollections, Articles). A. Art. line feed character in |title= at position 20 (help)
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