Con Amore

Music: Gioacchino Rossini, Overtures to La Gazza Ladra, Il Signor Bruschino, and La Scala di Seta
Libretto: James Graham-Lujan
Decor and Costumes: James Bodrero
First Performance: San Francisco Ballet, April 10, 1953, Veterans Auditorium, San Francisco
Principal Dancers: Sally Baily (Captain of the Amazons), Leon Danielian (The Bandit), Nancy Johnson (The Lady)
Number of Dancers: 18
Duration: 28 minutes

Con Amore Christensen's comic masterpiece Con Amore is his most popular and widely performed ballet. Set to three bubbling Rossini overtures with a tongue-and-cheek libretto that the New York Times called "genuinely fine and funny...ingenious, theatrical and eminently Rossinian," Con Amore is an irresistible and effervescent romp, rich with dance opportunities and choice comic roles.

Choreographed in 1953, Con Amore was Christensen's first major ballet after succeeding his brother Willam to the post of Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet and was the first of over fifty ballets Christensen would create to fill the company's repertory.

Synopsis: In the first of three scenes, a young bandit disrupts a company of Amazons dressed in smart uniforms, undertaking military exercises under the command of their beautiful captain. The young women are attracted to the gaiety and charm of the handsome intruder who naively spurns their amorous advances. The wrath of woman scorned befalls the hapless thief as the Amazons raise their muskets--the scene abruptly ends.

In the second scene, a flirtatious bride, whose husband has just departed, entertains an entourage of admirers: a dapper, man-about-town, a lusty, boisterous sailor and a quivering young student. Her husband unexpectedly returns as the scene ends.

In the final scene the previous amorous dilemmas are cleverly combined in brilliant, fast-paced action until the sudden appearance of Cupid who lets fly her arrows with comically unexpected results.

Con Amore was an immediate hit with both audiences and critics. "Lew Christensen is that rarity among choreographers," wrote Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp in The Ballet Goer's Guide. "The special delight of Con Amore is that it encapsulates the cliches of nineteenth-century farce without being a cliche itself. Its bubbly pace and bustling plot line are fun in themselves and fun as commentary on Rossini's three overtures. Christensen develops each story with just the right amount of snap, breaks it off with a blackout at just the crucial moment, and ties it all together with just the right degree of implausibility."

"Brilliant... ceaselessly lively and ceaselessly inventive," wrote Alfred Frankenstein in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Immediately after its premier in San Francisco, Con Amore entered the repertory of the New York City Ballet. John Martin, in his review of the opening performance wrote in the New York Times, "Certainly Mr. Christensen never produced more resourceful choreography and James Graham-Lujan has provided him with a most amusing libretto to hang it on... The work makes for first rate entertainment." Also of the New York performances, Walter Terry wrote, "... one can do no less than cheer the addition of the captivating `Con Amore' to the New York City Ballet's repertory."

Many of the elements that have made Christensen's ballets so popular: wit, charm, humor, and brilliant, fast-paced timing are brought together to make Con Amore a Christensen classic. Staged by more companies than any other work from the San Francisco Ballet repertory, Con Amore has provided many leading dancers with cherished roles--Violette Verdy, Lynda Meyer, Sally Bailey, and Nancy Johnson, as the Amazon Captain and Jacques d'Amboise, Edward Villela, Leon Danielian, Michael Smuin, and Kent Stowell as the Bandit.

Photograph: Michael Graham, Paula Tracy, Jerome Weiss, Michael Thomas, and Val Caniparoli in Scene Two of Con Amore (1978) Photo: Beth Witrogen.

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