Les millions d'Arlequin

This article is about Petipa's ballet. For the Italian and subsequent British theatre forms, see Harlequinade.
Les Millions d'Arléquin, or Harlequinade

Frontispiece of the original piano reduction of Drigo's score as issued by the publisher Zimmerman, 1901.
Choreographer Marius Petipa
Music Riccardo Drigo
Libretto Marius Petipa
Based on episodes from La commedia dell'arte
Premiere 23 February [O.S. 10 February] 1900 (Hermitage)
26 February [O.S. 13 February] 1900 (Imperial Mariinsky Theatre)
Design décor: Orest Allegri
costumes: Ivan Kaffi
Genre Ballet comique

Les Millions d'Arléquin (en. Harlequin's Millions) (ru. "Миллионы Арлекина", Milliony Arlekina) also known under the title Harlequinade (ru. "Арлекинада", Arlekinada) is a Ballet comique in two acts and two tableaux with libretto and choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Riccardo Drigo. First presented at the Hermitage by the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia on 23 February [O.S. 10 February] 1900. The ballet was given a second premiere with the same cast at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre on 26 February [O.S. 13 February] 1900.

Riccardo Drigo's score for Les Millions d'Arléquin was celebrated in its own right and was published promptly after the ballet's premiere by the publisher Zimmerman. The Sérénade from the first act of the ballet became a popular repertory piece that has been arranged for various instruments and published under several alternative titles such as Serenatina veneziana all'antica, Veneitian Serenade and Valse Boston among many others. In 1922 the Sérénade was adapted into the song Notturno d'amour that went on to be recorded by many notable singers including the famous Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli, whose 1926 recording of the song became a worldwide hit.

Marius Petipa's original two-act production has not been performed since 1927. To date there are two versions of the ballet that are performed. The first is a one-act redaction by the ballet master Fyodor Lopukhov that was originally staged for the Maly Theatre Ballet in 1933 under the title Arlekinada. Lopukhov's version is still performed by companies and particularly by schools primarily in Russia but also throughout the world. The second version that is performed with regularity is the choreographer George Balanchine's version, given under the title Harlequinade, originally staged for the New York City Ballet in 1965.


Ivan Vsevolozhsky took up the directorship of the Hermitage Museum in 1899, a post that required supervision over performances given at the museum's theatre. Vsevolozhsky commissioned Marius Petipa—the renowned Premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres—to begin work on three short ballets to be given for performances attended by the Imperial Russian court for the 1900–1901 season. Petipa began crafting scenarios for these ballets, drawing on a variety of differing subjects. The libretto of the first ballet, titled Les Ruses d'amour (The Pranks of Love), was inspired by French rococo. The second libretto was arranged for a ballet titled Les Saisons (The Seasons), being a plot-less ballet divertissement that represented the four seasons through Petipa's classical formula of danced tableaux. The third ballet was Les Millions d'Arlequin (Harlequin's Millions), with a libretto based on episodes featuring the stock characters from the Italian Commedia dell'arte. Petipa and Vsevolozhsky's original intentions were to commission the score for Les Millions d'Arlequin from Alexander Glazunov, while Riccardo Drigo was to compose the score for Les Saisons. The composers were close friends, and soon developed an affinity for their colleague's assigned ballet. Glazunov adamantly expressed to Petipa and Vsevolozhsky that the subject of Les Millions d'Arléquin was perfect in every respect for the Italian composer's talents. In the end Glazunov was commissioned to compose the scores for the one-act ballets Les Saisons and Les Ruses d'amour, while Drigo was commissioned to compose the score for the two-act ballet Les Millions d'Arléquin.

Alexander Shiryaev as Harlequin in Les millions d'Arlequin in his costume for the first act. Here, Shiryaev is holding a prop guitar from the ballet's famous Sérénade. St. Petersburg, ca. 1905
Julia Sedova as Columbine in Les millions d'Arlequin in her costume for the Polonaise of Act II. St. Petersburg, ca. 1905

While working on the score for Les Millions d'Arléquin, Drigo took daily walks through the St. Petersburg Summer Garden and along the banks of the Neva River, all the while thinking of his native Italy. During one such walk, Drigo composed the ballet's famous Sérénade, which included a solo mandolin, and the Berceuse: Variation pour Columbine, which was written especially for the harpist Albert Zabel.

Les Millions d'Arléquin was first presented at the Hermitage on 23 February [O.S. 10 February] 1900 with a cast that included Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Columbine, Georgy Kyaksht as Harlequin, Olga Preobrajenskaya as Pierrette, Sergei Lukianov as Pierrot, and Enrico Cecchetti as Cassandre. The first performance was given for a private audience consisting the whole of the Imperial Russian court as well as the Emperor Nicholas II, the Empress Alexandra, and the Dowager Empress Maria. Private royal theatrical performances of that time were extremely formal affairs where rigid etiquette and protocol were strictly adhered to, and as such applause or cheering were not permitted. Nevertheless within moments of the final curtain the typically subdued royal audience erupted into thunderous applause. The ballet master Petipa and the entire cast received a tumultuous ovation as they took their bows before the curtain. But much to the surprise of everyone present, the composer Drigo received such a reception that he was mobbed by several princes and Grand Dukes who tripped over one another in their enthusiasm to congratulate him for his music. The Empress Alexandra was also delighted with the ballet, and commanded two additional court performances on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre, the first being given on 26 February [O.S. 13 February] 1900.

Marius Petipa staged some of his most memorable choreography for the principal ballerina roles of Columbine and Pierrette, with the role of Columbine becoming popular with the great ballerinas of the old Imperial stage, among them Anna Pavlova, Olga Preobrajenskaya and Julia Sedova. Petipa arranged challenging virtuoso choreography for the character Harlequin, a role that would go on to become one of the most coveted parts for the male dancer in Russia, with many of the Imperial Ballet's principal male dancers distinguishing themselves in it.

Les Millions d'Arléquin was performed on over fifty occasions before the 1917 revolution. It was given sporadically thereafter, with its final performance in Petipa's production being given at the former Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in 1927. The ballet was never again included in the company's repertory.

Later productions

The ballet master Fyodor Lopukhov re-staged Les Millions d'Arléquin as Arlekinada in 1933 in a one-act redaction for the newly formed Maly Theatre Ballet of Leningrad. The production included costumes and décor designed by the artist Tatiana Bruni. The premiere on 6 June 1933 was the company's first performance as the Maly Theatre's official dance troupe. Lopukhov's production of Arlekinada was performed by the company consistently until the 1990's, and was even filmed on two occasions. The first was produced by the BBC in 1978 for their program "An Evening With the Russian Ballet", and the second was produced by Gosteleradio for Russian television in 1991 when the Maly Theatre Ballet gave a rare performance of Arlekinada at the Mariinsky Theatre. Lopukhov's one-act version of the ballet is still occasionally performed by companies and especially by schools not only in Russia but throughout the world.

In honor of the 65th anniversary of Les Millions d'Arléquin, George Balanchine staged an important revival of the work for the New York City Ballet under the title Harlequinade. This production premiered at the New York State Theater in New York City on 4 February 1965 with Patricia McBride as Columbine, Edward Villella as Harlequin, Suki Schorer as Pierrette and Deni Lamont as Pierrot. The New York City Ballet still perform Harlequinade consistently to the present day.

Publication of the music

After the premiere of Les Millions d'Arléquin in 1900, plans were underway by the music publisher Zimmermann to issue Riccardo Drigo's score in both piano reduction and orchestral partition. Riccardo Drigo recounts in his memoirs of how his colleagues urged the composer to dedicate his score to the Empress Alexandra. This required the composer to submit a request for the dedication to the Minister of the Imperial Court, which brought about a lengthy correspondence by a commission set-up to investigate whether or not the composer's character and background were worthy of his offering a dedication to a Russian Empress. In the end the response was favorable and the dedication was graciously accepted.

The "Sérénade"

The first act of Les Millions d'Arléquin featured a scene where the character Columbine appears on the balcony of her house and is serenaded from the street by the character Harlequin with his prop mandolin (though a prop guitar was also used in subsequent performances). Drigo's music for this scene became popular in its own right and was published separately in arrangements for various instruments. The Sérénade would go on to become a staple of salon music during the Edwardian era and the inter-war period, and was even issued by music publishers under several alternate titles including Valse Boston or Serenatina veneziana (Venetian Serenade). The Sérénade was among the pieces in the White Star Line songbook, and was played by the Musicians of the RMS Titanic.

The Sérénade was later adapted into the song Notturno d'amore by the lyricist S. Focacci in 1922. The Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli made a worldwide hit with his recording of the song in 1926. Notturno d'amore would go on to be recorded by many notable singers, while various adaptations of the Sérénade have been recorded on countless occasions.

Résumé of scenes and dances

Taken from the original published score, the theatre programme of 1900 from the Hermitage, and Riccardo Drigo's memoirs and personal reminisces.

Act I

—a. Andante (solo de violon pour Mons. Léopold Auer)
—b. Danse des amis de Columbine et d'Arléquin
—c. Variation de Columbine (solo de violon pour Mons. Léopold Auer)
Frontispiece of a piano arrangement of the Sérénade issued by the music publisher Zimmerman. Drigo's Sérénade remains a very popular repertory piece that sold well in the sheet-music market. It went on to be arranged for several instruments and even published under several alternative titles such as Venetian Serenade and Valse Boston.

Act II

—a. Danse des Polichinelles
—b. Danse des Arléquins et Columbines
—c. Danse des Pierrots et Pierrettes
—d. Danse des Scaramuches
—a. Alegretto: Arléquin et Columbine et des alouettes
—b. Andante (solo de violon pour Mons. Léopold Auer)
—c. Valse des alouettes
—d. Berceuse: Variation pour Columbine (solo de la harpe pour Mons. Albert Zabel)
—e. Coda du pas des alouettes


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