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This audience favorite translates the seasons into frosty flirtation, springtime awakening, sultry revelry, and autumnal bacchanal, all set to Verdi’s vibrant melodies.
When opera was presented in Paris in the late nineteenth century, the composer was obliged to include a ballet at the beginning of the third act, whether or not it had anything to do with the plot of the opera. Usually it didn't, but it gave the Jockey Club, a group of wealthy subscribers, a chance to look over their favorite beautiful ladies of the ballet at a convenient time of the evening, and these patrons were attentively in their seats for the ballet, if not for the rest of the opera. The tradition of the third act divertissement was so firmly established that when Wagner put his Venusburg ballet at the very beginning of Act I of Tannhäuser, there were such forcible protests by the Jockey Club that the whole opera was nearly withdrawn.
Fortunately for us, Verdi was less revolutionary about Parisian conventions and composed many third-act opera ballets. Although seldom included in today’s productions, they contain some of the most delightful dance music of the period. For I Vespri Siciliani, he devised a ballet called The Four Seasons. His libretto called for Janus, the God of New Year, to inaugurate a series of dances by each of the seasons in turn. Verdi’s notes suggest such notions as ballerinas warming themselves in Winter by dancing, Spring bringing on warm breezes, indolent Summer ladies being surprised by an Autumnal faun, etc. The present ballet follows his general plan. The original score is augmented by a few selections of his ballet music from I Lombardi and Il Trovatore.
– Jerome Robbins, 1979
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