Composers Datebook®

Delibes plays with dolls?

Composers Datebook - May 25, 2024


In 1967, the Beatles released a song about “a girl with kaleidoscope eyes,” but on today’s date in 1870, it was “a girl with enamel eyes” that was the subject of a ballet that debuted on today’s date at the Paris Opéra.

The ballet’s full title was Coppelia, or the Girl with Enamel Eyes, and its story-line was based on a fantastic tale by German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, dealing with the mad toymaker Dr. Coppelius, his uncannily lifelike doll Coppélia and the complications she causes in the love life of a small Polish village.

The music was provided by a 30-something French composer named Leo Delibes. Coppelia was a great success, much to Delibes’ relief. He had been juggling several jobs in Paris, but the new ballet’s financial success allowed him to concentrate on composing as his main career from then on.

Delibes followed up on the success of Coppelia with another ballet, Sylvia, in 1876, and, in 1883, his opera Lakmé premiered at the Opéra-Comique.

Along with the famous ballets of Tchaikovsky, Delibes’ Coppelia is now regarded as the culmination of the 19th century Romantic ballet.

Music Played in Today's Program

Leo Delibes (1836-1891): Coppelia; Lyons Opera Orchestra; Kent Nagano, conductor; Erato 91730

On This Day


  • 1926 - American composer and jazz trumpet Miles Davis, in Alton, Illinois


  • 1934 - English composer Gustav Holst, 59, in London


  • 1715 - Handel: opera Amadigi di Gauli at the King's Theater in London (Gregorian date: June 5)

  • 1723 - Handel: opera Flavio, Re de' Langobardi (Flavio, King of the Langobards) (Julian date: May 14)

  • 1870 - Delibes: ballet Coppelia at the Paris Opéra

  • 1878 - Gilbert and Sullivan: H.M.S. Pinafore, at the Opera Comique Theatre in London. This production ran for 700 consecutive performances.

  • 1953 - Marc Blitzstein: musical The Harpies, at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City

  • 1961 - Castelnuovo-Tedesco: opera Il Mercante di Venzia (The Merchant of Venice), at the Maggio Musicale Festival in Florence, Italy

  • 1962 - Webern: Im Sommerwind (composed in 1904), at the First International Anton von Webern Festival at the University of Washington in Seattle

  • 1984 - Stockhausen: opera Samstag von Licht (Saturday from Light), in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala

  • 2001 - Philip Glass: Voices for pipe organ, two didgeridoos, clap sticks and narrator performed by didgeridoo virtuoso Mark Atkins, Calvin Bowman (organ), Ron Murray (second didgeridoo and clapsticks) and Wurundjeri elder Joy Murphy Wandin (narrator) at City of Melbourne Town Hall to celebrate the refurbishment of the Melbourne (Australia) Town Hall Grand Organ

  • 2001 - Salonen: Fanfare for Betty, dedicated to the 80-year old music patron, Betty Freeman, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with the composer conducting. See May 26-27 as well.

  • 2001 - David Ward-Steinman: Millennium Dances, for percussion and orchestra, by soloist John Flood and the San Diego Symphony, Jung-Ho Pak conducting


  • 1869 - The newly completed Vienna Opera on the Ringstrasse opens with a production of Mozart's Don Giovanni (sung in German)

  • 1944 - Arturo Toscanini conducts the combined NBC Symphony and New York Philharmonic in a benefit concert of music by Wagner, Verdi, and Sousa at the old Madison Square Garden. The concert raised $100,000 for the Red Cross. During an intermission auction, New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia auctioned off Toscanini's baton for $10,000.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®