La fille mal gardée, Ballet by F. Ashton
La fille mal gardée, a milestone in ballet’s modern history, was first performed in its original version in 1789. The choreography by Jean Dauberval was set to a pastiche of a few dozen French songs – a popular approach in the 18th century. The comedy ballet attained an enduring reputation and established itself as a mainstay in theatres over the world. La fille mal gardée received a new treatment by renowned choreographer Frederick Ashton in 1959 for a performance at the Royal Ballet in London. The reworked version debuted on 28 January 1960. With Ashton's daring and avant-garde style and Ferdinand Hérold's orchestral fragments, the already well-liked ballet was elevated to a cult classic. Rome's Teatro dell'Opera di Roma presents an authentic revival of the Ashton / Hérold production.
Frederick Ashton and conductor and composer John Lanchbery truly put their hearts and souls into updating the classic comic ballet. After considering many scores, the team decided on Ferdinand Hérold's 1828 version since its tone and playfulness came closest to Ashton's concept. Lanchbery stepped in to write a few of the missing numbers after discovering that the only surviving copy of Hérold’s score was sadly not complete. The final setting had a couple of the original French airs as well, thus preserving the pastiche-like structure of the original ballet’s music.
The secret romance between Lise and Colas serves as the foundation for La fille mal gardée's story. The Widow Simone, Lise's guardian, wants her to wed the unimpressive but wealthy Alain – which presents a major predicament to the young couple. Lise refuses to consummate the arranged marriage despite the fact that a contract has already been drawn up. Many chuckles result from Widow Simone's futile attempts to keep Colas and Lise separated. The many comical scenes around this motif explain why the ballet’s title translates to ‘The Poorly Guarded Girl’ in English. Love will eventually triumph, but to find out when and how, you will have to let your own guard down and head over to Teatro Costanzi in Rome.