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The jaw-dropping technical feats of Ballo della Regina’s choreography were originally devised to challenge the lead ballerina, who must exhibit carefree joyousness while performing steps that push the limits of physical possibility.
Balanchine was no stranger to opera. Not only did he create ballets to the music from such works as La Sonnambula and Don Sebastian, he also choreographed the ballet portions of many opera productions. He felt that opera taught something important. "From Verdi's way of dealing with the chorus," Balanchine told biographer Bernard Taper, "I have learned how to handle the corps de ballet, the ensemble, the soloists, how to make the soloists stand out against the corps, and when to give them a rest."
Ballo della Regina is a virtuoso set of variations, comparable to the bel canto style of opera. It is set to ballet music that was cut from the original production of Verdi's Don Carlo. Lincoln Kirstein writes that the ballet seems to take place in a grotto, with reference through lighting and costumes to the original tale of a fisherman's search for the perfect pearl.
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