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Theatre / Coppélia

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Coppelia is a ballet based on "The Sandman" by E. T. A. Hoffmann, with choreography by Arthur Saint-Léon and music by Léo Delibes.

Franz is preparing for his wedding to his sweetheart, Swanhilda, when he glances into the upper story windows of the house of the reclusive Doctor Coppelius. Inside, he sees the most beautiful girl he has ever laid eyes on—Coppelia, the doctor's daughter, and falls in love at once. Forgetting Swanhilda, he sneaks into the Doctor's house to woo his new love. However, Coppelius has more than a few secrets hiding in his home... and Swanhilda is by no means going to take her lover's abandonment lying down! So she decides to check on this mysterious love rival, and in her quest she finds out about more than one shocking truth—and the truth behind Coppelia and her father.


Coppelia provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Name Change: Most of the cast. Swanhilda, Franz and Coppelia were originally called Clara, Nathaniel and Olimpia, respectively. Coppelius is the only character who gets to keep his original name.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Coppelius goes from being The Dreaded to being a meek Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain who fails with all his plans, gets mugged by a local gang of youngsters, and is intiminated by Swanhilda, who can't help but feel a little bad for the poor man once his dreams are utterly shattered.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: During the cermony in Act III, when the new church bell is presented, personifications of Dawn, Prayer, War and Discord (all things the tolling of said bell might announce) appear. (Whether or not all of them actually appear depends on the production.)
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  • Badass Long Robe: Worn by Coppelius when he attempts his magic ritual.
  • Become a Real Boy: What Doctor Coppelius attempts with Coppelia. It doesn't work.
  • Brainless Beauty: Coppelia is a literal example, being a Robot Girl and all.
  • Buy Them Off: In some productions, Coppelius is given money in Act III as a compensation for the damage our protagonists caused in his workshop.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Swanhilda is jealous. Probably justified, as her fiancé suddenly is smitten with a new girl right before Swanhilda and him are going to marry.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Downplayed, in that there's still tons of comedy, but the story does get more dramatic and tragic when Coppelius makes his entrance in Act II.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In some productions, Swanhilda's friends all wear the same outfit, while Swanhilda herself wears a similar costume in brighter colors to make her stand out. This is also done with Franz and the other guys in the village.
  • Composite Character: Coppelius is based on two characters from The Sandman: Coppelius (the Big Bad), and Spallanzani (the father of Olimpia/Coppelia).
  • Crosscast Role: In the original production, the role of Franz was played by a woman in drag.
  • Einstein Hair: Coppelius is often depicted with this.
  • Follow the Leader: According to the website Shomler, Coppelia was the first ballet to incorporate folk dance, which later became a mainstay in the medium.
  • Girl Posse: Swanhilda has one. Subverted in that she's not exactly an Alpha Bitch.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Doctor Coppelius, though he's still an Adaptational Nice Guy compared to his literary namesake, who was a Jerkass Child Hater and possibly a murderous Humanoid Abomination. At the very least, he seems to geniunly care for Coppelia.
  • Life Energy: Coppelius tries to steal Franz's life energy to bring Coppelia to life. It only appears to work because at this point, "Coppelia" is actually Swanhilda.
  • Lighter and Softer: The ballet is a light-hearted comedy, whereas the original E. T. A. Hoffmann story is a horror story and a tragedy.
  • Love at First Sight: Franz falls in love with Coppelia as soon as he first sees her. He gets over it when he finds out that she's just a doll.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Coppelia is the daughter of Doctor Coppelius. Or at least, that's what she seems to be.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Coppelius, a hermit who slaves over his dedication to his perfectly lifelike dolls, and bringing his "daughter" to life—at any cost. He is, however, FAR nicer than his incarnation in the original "Sandman", where he was (probably) the Sandman himself, and liked nothing better than to drive men mad and rip out the eyes of children.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: The dolls just appear to be oversized toys when activated by Swanhilda and her friends, but they end up becoming actual antagonists who manage to capture Franz.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Swanhilda successfully impersonates Coppelia by simply swapping clothes with her.
  • Perspective Flip: The story is mostly told from Swanhilda's point of view, whereas The Sandman followed her counterpart's fiancė. (Though the stories are so different that the tropes usually associated with this don't really apply.)
  • Plucky Girl: Swanhilda is unwilling to take Franz's sudden abandonment and defends him when it turns out that he's in danger of losing his own soul.
  • Protagonist Title Fallacy: It is Swanhilda who is The Protagonist, not Coppelia. (Granted, the former does spend most of Act II impersonating the former.)
  • Pygmalion Plot: Maybe. It's possible that Coppelius didn't want Coppelia as a daughter, but as a Robotic Spouse
  • Revised Ending: While many different interpretations of the story exist, The Royal did one of the most drastic changes to Act III:
    Forum poster: The Royal used to have a way of softening the ending and making a "well-made play" out of the story, by, instead of having Coppelius grabbing the money and running, taking the purse upstage when he sat on a bench, glumly contemplating it. As the divertissement continued, and mostly in the breaks between numbers, byplay happened with the town children - "What's the matter, mister?" "My baby has died!" "Oh, you poor man, Mommy, Daddy, come help this poor man - he just lost a child!" After awhile, Coppelius was inviting the townspeople in, light was seen lit in the shop, happy families were admiring, and PURCHASING the Doctor's lesser former creations, and Coppelius joins in the final toast to the happy couple of Swanhilda and Franz by sending down a hook on a string to claim his glass of wine - carrying a real little girl in his arm, and the parents patting him on the back, and coveting his attention, like a favorite old uncle come back from nowhere!
  • Robot Master: In the original story, Coppelius only made the eyes of one robot. Here however, he not only built Coppelia all by himself, but she's just the crown juwel in a large collection of automatons.
  • Robotic Reveal: Zig-Zagged. In Act II, Swanhilda discovers that Coppelia is an automaton. After then impersonation it for most of the act, she reveals her true identity to Coppelius; then she pulls out the real Coppelia from behind the curtain, showing Franz that his recent infatuation is... well, only a doll.
  • Role Reprisal: An interesting example. Robert Helpmann (of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame) played Coppelius in the 1957 BBC TV adaptation, having already played a different version of the same character in the 1951 film version of The Tales of Hoffmann.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Swanhilda and Franz have a rather... lively relationship.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Coppelius offers Franz a drink, and spikes it with a sleeping agent when he isn't looking. The doctor then pretends to drink, while secretly pouring the contents of his goblet into his drink-serving robot.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Everybody Lives here. Nathaniel/Franz wasn't as lucky in the original story.
  • Tsundere: Swanhilda comes across like this in her interactions with Franz.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: Most notably when Swanhilda and her friends all dare each other into sneaking into Coppelius's house and messing around with his stuff.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The ballet takes cultural inspiration from various countries, and while some productions try to give it a proper (inconsistent) setting, many don't make it more specific than "old rural central Europe."


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