Coppélia Story and Character Guide

Act I – A Village Square

Our story begins in a sunny square in the heart of Galicia. Colorful homes are decorated with whimsical painted tiles and wisteria. Swanilda lives on the edge of the town square and loves to meet her many friends there. Just around the corner is the home of Dr. Coppelius, who makes enchanting and very life-like dolls. Swanilda’s sweetheart Franz lives just down the lane.

Swanilda and Franz are on the verge of a quarrel because Franz is so taken with the dollmaker’s latest creation, the beautiful Coppélia. Franz believes Coppélia is the Doctor’s niece. Every morning, she sits on the Doctor’s balcony reading a book while Franz, believing her to be a real person, blows her kisses. Swanilda is not so sure, but she does know that she needs to teach Franz a lesson!

The Mayor comes to the square to announce the Festival of the Bells (La Fete du Carillion). Everyone is excited knowing the festival celebrates new marriages. Swanilda wonders if she and Franz will marry or if he would prefer to marry Coppélia. The mayor offers whispering wheat to young lovers in the village. If the wheat whispers, their love is true. Swanilda hears no whisper.

The residents of Galicia love to dance. They engage in a Carpathian-Polish mazurka and a Hungarian czardas until daylight starts to disappear. As residents head home, Franz and his mischievous friends bump into Dr. Coppelius and ask him if he will join them for a drink. When the Doctor declines, Franz and his friends spin and hoist the doctor in an unwelcome way before fleeing into the night. During the encounter, the Doctor accidentally drops his house key.

As he chases Franz down an alley, Swanilda’s friends find the key, open the door to the Doctor’s house, and cautiously embark on what they see as an adventure to explore the mysterious dollmaker’s workshop. The Doctor finds his way home, discovers the unlocked door, and rushes inside to see what has happened. Franz wants in too. He places a ladder on the edge of the balcony and starts to ascend.

Act II – Dr. Coppelius’s Workshop

Swanilda and her friends venture into the workshop. They discover the beautiful Coppélia, and Swanilda is quite relieved to discover she is in fact a doll. Wait until Franz hears about this! The friends start to dance and play with other dolls in the workshop until Dr. Coppelius enters in a huff. All the friends flee, except Swanilda, who hides with Coppélia.

Franz enters and asks the Doctor where he might find his beautiful niece. The Doctor has other plans and lets Franz know he has reconsidered his offer to share a drink. The two sit and start drinking, but there’s something odd about how the drink makes Franz’s head spin. When Franz collapses in a chair, we realize the Doctor is engaging in a new and dangerous experiment. He hopes to extract the life from Franz and give it to his Coppélia.

Unbeknownst to the Doctor, Swanilda dressed in Coppélia’s clothes as part of her plan to teach Franz a lesson. In the course of her ruse, she also fools the Doctor into thinking his experiment worked. After much dancing and disagreement, Franz awakens, realizes his mistake, and confesses his love for Swanilda. Crushed by his failed experiment, the Doctor is left wondering how and where to begin again.

Act III – Festival of the Bells

In the village piazza, there is rejoicing as weddings are celebrated and the town dances. The Burgermeister, who is really the Mayor with a far more fancy hat, offers gold coins to all the married couples. He even offers coins to Doctor Coppelius, who is keen to start his next creation. The villagers celebrate virtues and welcome peace after the dance of War and Discord. Following a tender pas de deux by Swanilda and Franz, they dance several thrilling solos, and then the entire town joins them in a final celebration romp.

Character Guide

Dr. Coppelius

An eccentric toymaker

Franz

A silly fellow engaged to Swanilda who thinks Coppélia is a real person

Swanilda’s Friends

Eight adventurous friends who love to dance

Coppélia

A lifelike doll mistaken for a real person

Swanilda

A playful young woman engaged to Franz who is determined to settle this love triangle

Villagers

A gleeful group who celebrates in the Village Square

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Coppélia plays at McCaw Hall May 31 – June 9, 2024. Don’t miss this iconic ballet comedy; bring the whole family to Coppélia! Purchase tickets here.

Photo credits: Featured image – Leta Biasucci and Ryan Cardea in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. Leta Biasucci and PNB Company dancers in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. Leta Biasucci and Benjamin Griffiths in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. PNB Company dancers in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. PNB School students and Company dancers in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. Peter Boal in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. Elizabeth Murphy in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. James Yoichi Moore in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. Leta Biasucci in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. PNB Company dancers in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling. PNB Company dancers in George Balanchine’s Coppélia, photo © Angela Sterling.