Le Corsaire is a performance with a classic plot: a dark anti-hero lives by his own rules of morality and justice until fate puts him to the test. Based on the epic poem The Corsair by British poet Lord Byron, the ballet was originally composed by Adolphe Adam, with a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. The original premiere took place on 23 January 1856 at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra in Paris with choreography by Joseph Mazilier. However, all modern performances of Le Corsaire are based off the version Marius Petipa produced for the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg in 1863. Revivals featured additional music by Cesare Pugni and Léo Delibes. Teatro Costanzi in Rome, therefore, presents a palimpsest of musical and dance talent.
In Le Corsaire, we follow the adventures of Conrad, a pirate who has carved a life of his own on an Aegean island. During a raid on a rich pasha’s property, his moral code prompts him to set the women in the harem free, a decision that costs him the battle and leads him into prison. While awaiting his punishment, Conrad finds an unlikely ally in Gulnare, one of the pasha’s courtesans, who aids his escape. Will the corsair’s scarred heart open up thanks to the young woman’s devotion and selflessness?
The dramatic and action-filled plot of Le Corsaire does justice to the Byron anti-hero’s journey. The combined efforts of Adam, Pugni and Delibes guarantee an exciting soundscape, while the masterful choreography of Petipa gloriously stands the test of time. Ever since its mid-19th century premiere and initial revivals, Le Corsaire has carved its space in the world of ballet, and Teatro dell’Opera di Roma’s production of the classic work aptly demonstrates why this is the case.