La Boutique fantasque
La Boutique fantasque or The Magic Toy Shop was a ballet conceived by Léonide Massine who wrote the choreography and the libretto.Ottorino Respighi wrote the music based on piano pieces by Gioachino Rossini. Its world premiere was at the Alhambra Theatre in London on 5 June 1919, performed by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.Lydia Lopokova and Massine played the roles of the can-can dancing dolls in the original performance with Enrico Cecchetti as the shopkeeper. Design for the original 1919 performance was by André Derain.
The story of the ballet has similarities to Die Puppenfee ("The Fairy Doll" of Josef Bayer), an old German ballet which had been performed by Jose Mendez in Moscow (1897) and by Serge and Nicholas Legat in Saint Petersburg (1903) in the early twentieth century. Others note the similarities to Hans Christian Andersen's The Steadfast Tin Soldier.
Massine's story centers around the love story between two can-can dancer dolls in a toy shop. Its general theme is lightly satirical, incorporating elements of comedy, national folk dance and mime as well as classical choreography, and its story unfolds in three acts.
The story is set in France in late 19th century. A world-famous toymaker has created exquisite dancing dolls in his magic toy shop. The automata perform various dance routines for the prospective customers. In the beginning, the store entertains two English ladies and an American family. Some dolls perform a tarantella for the guests, followed by other dolls dancing a mazurka. Subsequently, new dolls come in and perform another routine involving a snob and a melon vendor. New customers arrive after that, a Russian family, and everyone welcomes them. To honour the new arrivals, five Cossack dolls enter and perform their traditional dance, followed by an animal act featuring two dancing poodle dolls.
Then the most sophisticated dancing dolls, a pair of can-can dancers, come in and perform their routine. Their dance is so enchanting that the American family decides to buy the male doll while the Russian family buys the female dancing doll. The deals are made, the dolls are paid for, and pick-up is arranged for the next day.
During the night the dolls come magically to life and start dancing. They are however upset that the can-can dancers are going to be separated. When the store opens in the morning and the customers come in to pick up their dolls, it is discovered that the can can dancers are no longer there. The customers, not knowing about the secret life of the dolls, blame the shop owner and attack him. In the ensuing fracas the dolls come to the shopkeeper's rescue with the Cossack dolls attacking the customers with their bayonets.
Driven out of the store, the customers watch incredulously from the store window as the happy dolls and the shopkeeper are dancing merrily inside.
When Massine left the company of Colonel de Basil in 1937 the ballet was among other works involved in a copyright dispute. Following a legal ruling in 1937 de Basil was no longer allowed to perform pre-1932 works by Massine.
La Boutique fantasque was the first ballet by Léonide Massine to be performed in Australia. The Australian premiere of the ballet was at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide during the opening night of the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet tour on 13 October 1936. Valentina Blinova and Leon Woizikowsky were particularly celebrated as the Can-Can Dancers, the roles originally taken by Lydia Lopokova and Massine himself.
Respighi's score soon took on an existence of its own in the concert hall as a suite. It has been performed many times and is enduringly popular on record. Recordings have included:
- Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy (CBS)
- Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler (RCA)
- London Symphony Orchestra, Ernest Ansermet (Everest)
- RIAS Symphony Orchestra, Ferenc Fricsay (Deutsche Grammophon)
- Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Georg Solti (Decca)
- Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Davis (CBS)
- Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Neville Marriner (Philips)
- Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Charles Dutoit (Decca)
- Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Jesus Lopez-Cobos (Telarc)
- BBC Philharmonic, Gianandrea Noseda (Chandos)