L'Île Enchantée

L'Île Enchantée (literally, The Enchanted Island) is an 1864 ballet by Arthur Sullivan written as a divertissement at the end of Vincenzo Bellini's La Sonnambula at Covent Garden. It was choreographed by H. Desplaces.[1]

A shipwrecked mariner

Background and historyEdit

Arthur Sullivan was the organist for the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden, precursor to the Royal Opera, under the direction of Sir Michael Costa. He had made a sensation at The Crystal Palace with his incidental music to The Tempest in 1862.[2]

In the Victorian era, it was customary for opera companies, when performing a shorter opera, to present a short ballet as an afterpiece on the programme. As Sullivan was its house organist, the Royal Italian Opera looked to him to compose a ballet to follow its production of La sonnambula starring Adelina Patti, and so Sullivan's second major composition became L'Île Enchantée.[3] It was first performed on 16 May 1864, just after the composer's 22nd birthday, and enjoyed 13 performances in all, also appearing after Flowtow's Stradella, Rossini's Otello, Donizetti's La Figlia del Reggimento and L'Elisir d'Amore, and Verdi's La Traviata,[4] and it was presented in concert at The Crystal Palace in 1865.[5]

The choreographer, H. Desplaces danced the role of the Mariner, Mdlle. Salvioni was the Queen of the Fairies, and other dancers included Mdlle. Carmine, Mdlle. Navarre, Mdlle. Assunta and Mr. W. H. Payne. The scenic designer was William Beverley.[4]

The ballet consists of thirteen different numbers that break down into a total of approximately 30 independent melodic sections. A review in The Orchestra dated 21 May 1864 called the music "unusually picturesque and beautiful."[4] After three years, the full autographed score was lost, although the surviving orchestra parts have permitted a reconstruction of the piece.[4] Parts of the music in the ballet were reused in several of Sullivan's later works including: Thespis (1871), The Merchant of Venice (1871), The Merry Wives of Windsor (incidental music; 1874),[6] Macbeth (1888), and his other ballet Victoria and Merrie England (1897).[3]

In June 1990, the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society Festival staged the first performance since 1867.[5]

Description of the balletEdit

On a sea-shore, satyrs enter and wake sleeping nymphs. A storm frightens the fairies away and washes on shore an exhausted shipwrecked sailor. He awakes to find himself on an island whose residents are mythical creatures. He is enchanted by The Fairy Queen, who brings him to the magical fairy bower. The sailor encounters other nymphs who test his faithfulness. After scenes of jealousy involving the characters' former lovers, the Queen of the Fairies and the sailor fall in love, leaving the jilted lovers behind. The Fairy Queen and the sailor finally kiss, transforming the Fairy Queen into a mortal, and she bestows her hand upon him.

Musical numbersEdit

  • No. 1 Prelude
  • No. 2 Dance of Nymphs and Satyrs - Pas de Châles
  • No. 3 Galop
  • No. 4 Storm - Entrance of the Gnomes - Entrance of Fairy Queen
  • No. 5 Pas de deux
  • No. 6 Mazurka
  • No. 6a Variation
  • No. 7 Scène des disparitions
  • No. 8 Tempo di valse
  • No. 8a Variation for Mlle. Carmine
  • No. 9 Pas de trois
  • No. 10 Scène de jalousie
  • No. 11
  • No. 12 Galop
  • No. 13 Finale


The ballet was recorded in 1992 by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Penny, for Marco Polo[3][7] It was recorded by BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by John Andrews, and released in 2022 by Dutton Vocalion.[8]


  1. ^ "Review from The Orchestra, 21 May 1864", reprinted at the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, 27 July 2010, accessed 2 February 2016
  2. ^ Sullivan biography at the G&S Archive
  3. ^ a b c Shepherd, Marc. "L'Ile Enchantée, ballet (1864)", The Gilbert and Sullivan Discography, 29 October 2001, accessed 2 February 2016
  4. ^ a b c d Tillett and Spencer. "Sullivan's ballet “L'Ile Enchantée”", Forschung, 1997, accessed 2 February 2016
  5. ^ a b Information about the ballet and its restoration and later presentations
  6. ^ Ainger, p. 108
  7. ^ Recording, together with Thespis, Marco Polo 8.223460
  8. ^ "Arthur Sullivan – L'Île Enchantée: ballet in one act, "Procession March", "Day Dreams", The Sapphire Necklace: Overture, Dutton Vocalion (2022)


  • “The Ballets of Arthur Sullivan – A survey written and compiled by Selwyn Tillett” (1997) Coventry: The Sir Arthur Sullivan Society
  • Ainger, Michael (2002). Gilbert and Sullivan – A Dual Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195147693.

External linksEdit