Le Corsaire is a ballet with a rich and tumultuous history, not unlike its adventure-filled plot. The 19th-century original performance was the work of French composer Adolphe Adam and librettist Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. Both of them drew inspiration from the wildly popular epic poem The Corsair by the British poet Lord Byron. The exotic and exciting storyline ensured that Le Corsaire stayed on stages around the world for decades to come. Rome’s Teatro Costanzi, thus, brings back a beloved ballet classic.
Adam’s original Le Corsaire was first performed on 23 January 1856 at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra in Paris where it allowed prima ballerina Carolina Rosati to shine in the lead female role. All modern versions of the ballet, however, derive from the celebrated revival that Marius Petipa staged at St Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet in 1863. This particular performance featured additional music by Cesare Pugni, and an 1867 revival added a ‘Pas de fleurs’ by Léo Delibes, a student of Adam’s. As a result, the modern variants of Le Corsaire feature the creative input of several musical and ballet masters that make the performance a joy for the senses.
Le Corsaire’s storyline is as exciting as its performance history. It focuses on the corsair Conrad, a typical Byronic anti-hero, who lives by his own moral code and rejects society just as it rejected him in his youth. During a raid on a rich pasha’s castle, Conrad decides to free the women from the harem. Unfortunately, this noble act costs him the battle but also wins him the favour of Gulnare, one of the pasha’s courtesans, who is determined to help him escape. What will become of their newly forged bond? Le Corsaire grabs audiences by the hand and takes them on a wild ride in pirate ships, oriental castles and faraway lands, all on the stage of the Rome Opera House.