“Frantz meets Swanilda. Frantz and Swanilda fall in love. Then Frantz meets Coppélia.” That’s the deceptively simple plot of the ballet “Coppélia,” which, with a score by Léo Delibes, made its debut in 1870 in Paris. The catch is that though Frantz thinks Coppélia is a living doll, he’s only half right: she’s the mechanical creation of Dr. Coppélius. Before it’s all over, Swanilda, caught snooping in Coppélius’s workshop, has to pretend to be Coppélia, so in a sense the doll does come to life. This is the most light-hearted (though never lightweight) ballet in the classical repertory, and the 1974 George Balanchine version that Boston Ballet has just opened at the Boston Opera House is engaging throughout, with high-spirited performances Thursday night from a boyish Jeffrey Cirio as Frantz and a unnervingly doll-like Misa Kuranaga as Swanilda.
What is particularly nice about Balanchine’s “Coppélia” is that it preserves the original third act, which some companies, such as Paris Opera Ballet, have dropped. The plot — which, like the Olimpia segment of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann,” is freely based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story “The Sandman” — unfolds in the first two acts; the third, like the finales of “The Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker,” is a set of divertissements followed by a pas de deux for the reunited Frantz and Swanilda. Two dozen student girls dance Delibes’s lilting “Waltz of the Golden Hours,” a typical village day’s activities are depicted by ballerinas representing Dawn, Prayer, and Work, Discord and War intervene, and then the pas de deux restores peace.
As it did the last time it staged “Coppélia,” in 2009, Boston Ballet is using sets and costumes acquired from Pacific Northwest Ballet. There is a little bit of everything: the story is ostensibly set in a village in Carpathian Galicia (present-day Poland and Ukraine), so there is a bell tower topped with an onion dome, and the villagers dance both the mazurka and the csárdás. The mayor wears a Napoleonic hat, and the sign announcing the third act’s Festival of Bells is in French.
“Coppélia,”choreographed by George Balanchine
None of that mattered once Kuranaga and Cirio got going. The Boston Ballet Orchestra under music director Jonathan McPhee started things off with glowing, ruminative horns before zipping into Delibes’s percussion-drenched mazurka. Kuranaga’s Swanilda came out and, in a graceful, gracious waltz, invited Coppélia, who was reading on her father’s balcony, to come down and chat. When Coppélia did not respond, Swanilda retired in a huff.
Then Cirio’s Frantz appeared and, miming Swanilda’s beauty, held his hands to his heart. It was a touching moment — until he looked up at Coppélia and made exactly the same gestures. She did not respond to him, either, but Swanilda, who witnessed his little drama, did, telling him the wedding was off. Kuranaga made the rest of the first act an exercise in high dudgeon, ignoring Cirio at every opportunity but looking over her shoulder to make sure he was still following her about. Cirio showed off his butterfly-light cabrioles, and Kuranaga was superbly comic in her imitation of creaky Coppélius (Boyko Dossev) and the clockwork-like Coppélia.
In the second act, Swanilda and her friends slip into Coppélius’s workshop and find that Coppélia is a doll — then Coppélius returns and finds them, and Swanilda pretends to be Coppélia. Dossev played Coppélius as a kind of mad scientist full of concern for his automaton children. And when Coppélia seemed to come to life, he couldn’t have been prouder, walking with her on his arm, accepting imaginary compliments. But Kuranaga, showed him what a real daughter might be like, whacking him repeatedly, doing a Spanish dance and then a Scottish one before growing bored.
The third act offered a commanding Dawn from Rie Ichikawa, a serene, mysterious Prayer from Dusty Button, and a vivacious, almost sultry Spinner from Sylvia Deaton. War and Discord and their respective trains don’t have much to do; Lasha Khozashvili was strong in his entrechats and Lia Cirio in her jetés. The students, led by a high-flying Adiarys Almeida, were light and lovely in the “Waltz of the Golden Hours.” Kuranaga and Cirio were beautifully matched in the pas de deux; she was even better as Swanilda than she was in 2009, and he made a splendid debut as Frantz. The ballet ended in such a riot of cancan-like pas emboîtés, it seemed that even the dolls were dancing.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.