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Toy Story Meets Nutcracker? Respighi’s “La Boutique Fantasque”

Alexandra Danilova and Leonide Massine in La Boutique Fantasque
Library of Congress Music Division
Alexandra Danilova and Leonide Massine in La Boutique Fantasque

Ottorino Respighi’s ballet “La Boutique Fantasque” sits at the glorious intersection where “The Nutcracker” meets “Toy Story.”

Based on piano pieces by Gioachino Rossini, the music is vibrant and whimsical, and as for the story, well, there’s nothing more charming than a magic toyshop.

The story goes something like this: a celebrated toymaker runs a shop full of exquisite dancing dolls. As he shows off his creations to potential patrons, the dolls perform a series of dances, all lovely, with the finest of them being a can-can.

The pair of can-can dancers astound the customers, and they make plans to purchase them — one doll will go to an American, and the other, to a Russian. Distraught at the thought of separation, the dolls hatch a plan. When the customers return the next morning, the can-can dancers are conspicuously missing — and then the other dolls attack. The customers are driven out, and the dolls join the toymaker in joyful celebration.

The music is as charming as the story. Each movement is a dance in and of itself, each one livelier than the last, and it all culminates in a flashy, rollicking finale that shows off Respighi’s deft hand with orchestration. Most of all, though, it’s just plain fun listening. From the mysterious opening bars to the slam-bang finish, we dare you not to tap your toes the whole way through.

Kendall Todd is the Content Manager for GBH Music.