29 June 2011

In which the Melancholy Swan gets a message

Yesterday the Melancholy Swan was reading for an article I'm writing and when I opened the book to the next chapter I found a bookmark advertising a production of Coppélia. I'd missed a class last week and in the middle of a rather tedious reading (when dissertations become books, the result isn't always good, especially when they write according to the "tell them what you are going to say - say it - then tell them what you said" school of thought) and my little discovery gave me a welcome mental break.

Well, sort of welcome. See I loathe Coppélia I read the original story The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann, along with Freud's analysis of the story when I was writing my dissertation. It is a dark tale of Nathaniel, who as a child, feared the lawyer and alchemist Coppelius as the Sandman, who steals the eyes of children who won't go to bed. Nathan's father was killed during an alchemical experiment with Coppelius.

As an adult, Nathaniel believes that Giuseppe Coppolaan eye glass salesmen. He is briefly convinced he is in error by his physics professor Spalanzani who knows Coppola and has a daughter, Olympia.
Nathaniel meets Olympia at her "coming out" party and falls in love with her, while the other guests are creeped out by her uncanny, almost mechanical perfection and her lack of speech beyond "Ah, ah!" When he returns to the house to propose to her, he finds Spalanzali and Coppola (who is, in fact, Coppelius) fighting over Olympia. In their struggle, she is revealed to be an automaton, and is torn apart with her eyes falling on the floor. Nathaniel goes mad.

He seems to recover and is reunited with Clara, his real girlfriend that he dumped in favor of Olympia. They climb a high steeple to look out over the city, when Nathaniel spies Coppelius in the crowd and his madness returns. He tries to throw Clara out of the tower, but she is saved by her brother and ends up throwing himself over the railing and dies. Not a happy story.

Jacques Offenbach's opera, Tales of Hoffmann, transforms Hoffmann into the protagonist who's tragic love for Olympia in the first act ends with her destruction and his realization that he was deceived by Coppélius and Spalanzani. Again, not a happy ending.

Coppélia a comedy where the mysterious Dr. Coppélius creates a dancing doll, the idiotic village swain falls for her, she is revealed to be a doll, the swain returns to his living girlfriend, they have a wedding celebration that goes on forever. Happy happy, joy joy.

Sometimes I wish being an academic didn't make me a total buzz-kill, but it was a welcome distraction from reading about boredom.

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