In 1868 the choreographer Marius Petipa planned his ballet Don Quixote for the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and the Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus was invited to compose the music. The plot of Don Quixote was based on the adventures of Quiteria (known as Kitri in the ballet) and Basilio, which Petipa had developed from the second part of Miguel de Cervantes's novel (1605). The ballet was an enormous success, both in Moscow (14/26 December 1869) and in St Petersburg where it was represented at the Bolshoi Theatre on 9/21 November 1871 in an expanded version as Don Quichotte—with revised scenario and choreography that took cognizance of the more sophisticated expectations of the Imperial capital. Changes were made to the story, with a new fifth act in three scenes, for which Minkus wrote additional music. Don Quixote no longer regarded Kitri simply as his protégée, but now actually mistakes her for Dulcinea, and she appears as such in his Dream Scene. Provision was made for one ballerina to perform the double virtuoso role of Kitri and Dulcinea. The big classical scene for Don Quixote's dream was rewritten. Greater emphasis was now placed on this episode, where Kitri/Dulcinea was surrounded by a large corps de ballet and seventy-two children dressed as cupids. Alexandra Vergina was partnered by Basilio (Lev Ivanov), and supported by Pavel Gerdt in the last scene. The cast also included Timofei Stukolkine (Don Quixote), Nicholas Goltz (Gamache), and Alexei Bogdanov (Lorenzo).
Don Quixote became established in the repertory, and its continued life on the Russian stage bears testimony to the appeal of its exuberance, “the life-asserting and life-loving nature of its dances” (Natalia Roslavleva). Generations of Russian ballet-masters and dancers preserved these dances in essence, and the ballet is still part of the Russian repertory, given today in all Russian and Siberian companies, in the Moscow version of Alexander Gorsky, in three acts and seven or eight scenes.
Petipa’s version of Don Quixote, with its life-affirming music by Minkus, has during the 20th century spread throughout the world, not least because of the work of Rudolf Nureyev who made a film version of the Australian Ballet production in 1971 that became very famous. It co-starred Robert Helpmann and Lucette Aldous, and made world history in being the first ballet to be produced with full film technique, so providing wider scope for imaginative handling of the famous story. Don Quixote has become the standard ballet version of the Cervantes tale, and one of the most popular pieces of the international repertory. Much of its emotional fervour is captured in the celebrated virtuoso Grand Pas de Deux for the wedding of Kitri and Basilio in the last scene. This piece, with a spectrum of feeling enshrined in its rapturous melodies and irresistible rhythmic élan, has assumed a life of its own as a concert piece in countless renditions wherever ballet is performed.
The piano score of the St Petersburg version was published as Don Quichotte (St Petersburg: Theodore Stellowsky, c. 1882). This version is reproduced here.
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Ludwig Minkus (23 March 1826, Bohemia–7 December 1917, Vienna) grew up in Vienna where he hoped to establish a reputation as a violinist and composer. In 1853 he emigrated to St Petersburg where he became the conductor and solo violinist of the private orchestra of Prince Nikolai Yusupov. In 1861 he became violin soloist and, a year later, conductor of the Moscow Bolshoi Orchestra, and began a fruitful working friendship with the choreographer Arthur Saint-Léon. The enormous success of his score for Don Quixote led to Minkus being appointed Official Composer to the Imperial Russian Ballet—a position he held until it was discontinued in 1886. He left Russia and returned to Vienna in the summer of 1891, where he lived in semi retirement until his death in 1917. Minkus wrote music for more than twenty ballets, the most famous being Don Quixote (1869) and La Bayadère (1877).Minkus’s reputation has suffered with his work negatively compared with that of his contemporary, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893), an unhelpful exercise as the two composers were from different musical traditions. Tchaikovsky, from his first major work, the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, emerged as an orchestral composer, accustomed to working with complex structures, large time spans and rich orchestral colours. Minkus, from his Viennese training and background, became a dedicated ballet composer, specializing in rhythmic music with immediate melodic appeal; the character, length, tempo and beat of the dances being determined by the choreographer, a practice Tchaikovsky himself followed in his score for The Sleeping Beauty. The rhythmic ebullience and melodic charm of Minkus’s music are nowhere better revealed than in the basically comic scenario for Don Quixote. But his apprehension of a tragic vision in La Bayadère was also a masterly achievement, where his conception of broader spans, Leitmotif and emotional colour, with a more symphonic approach in the famous episode of the Kingdom of the Shades, resulted in a supreme masterpiece of the ballet repertoire.Marius Alphonse Petipa (11 March 1818 Marseille–14 July 1910 Gursuf, Crimea) studied music and dancing in Belgium, particularly with his father, Jean Antoine Petipa. He became premier danseur at the Comédie Française in Paris (1840), choreographer and dancer at the King’s Theatre in Madrid (1843-6), premier danseur at the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg (1847), and then Imperial Ballet Master in 1862, a position he held until the beginning of the 20th century. He is regarded as the father of Russian ballet, having choreographed fifty-four new ballets, re-choreographed seventeen old ones, and provided the dances for thirty-five opera ballets. His best known works include Pharaoh’s Daughter (with Pugni) (1862), Don Quixote (1869) and La Bayadère (1877) (with Minkus), The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and Swan Lake (1895) (with Tchaikovsky, and the choreographer Ivanov), Raymonda (1898) and The Seasons (1900) (with Glazunov) and Millions d’Arlequin (with Drigo) (1900).Robert Ignatius Letellier has specialized in the music and literature of the Romantic Period. He has studied the work of Giacomo Meyerbeer (a four-volume English edition of his diaries, a collection of critical and biographical studies, a guide to research, two readings of the operas, as well as compiling and introducing editions of the complete libretti and non-operatic texts, and a selection of manuscripts facsimiles). He has also written on the ballets of Ludwig Minkus and compiled a series of scores from the Romantic Ballet.