La fille mal gardée, Ballet by F. Ashton
In its original version from 1789, La fille mal gardée was one of the oldest and most significant ballets in the genre’s modern history. As was customary at the time, the music was a pastiche of different French melodies, to which Jean Dauberval set his choreography. The comedy ballet gained lasting fame and became a staple at performance halls around the globe. In 1959, star choreographer Frederick Ashton revamped La fille mal gardée for a new production at the Royal Ballet in London, which saw its premiere on 28 January 1960. With Ashton’s bold and fresh approach and a musical foundation by Ferdinand Hérold, the already popular ballet reached a new level. Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in Rome stages a faithful production of the Ashton / Hérold reimagining of La fille mal gardée.
Re-choreographing and re-scoring the classic comedy ballet became a true labour of love for Frederick Ashton and conductor and composer John Lanchbery. After exploring different scores, the duo picked Ferdinand Hérold’s 1828 setting for its light-hearted, coy nature that seemed a good match for Ashton’s vision. When the manuscript turned out to be quite fragmentary and missing key numbers, Lanchbery stepped in to compose a few of them himself. A few of the original French airs also made their way into the final score, making it once again a pastiche, albeit a newer, more focussed one.
The plot of La fille mal gardée is based upon the secret love between Lise and Colas. The couple faces a problem: the Widow Simone, Lise’s guardian, wants her to marry the dull but very rich Alain. Even though a marriage contract has already been prepared, Lise maintains her reluctance to go through with the arranged union. Widow Simone’s unsuccessful attempts to keep Colas and Lise apart from one another result in many laughs and also explain the ballet’s name (‘The Poorly Guarded Girl’ in English). When and how true love prevails remains to be seen on the stage of Teatro Costanzi in Rome.