Giselle, ou Les Wilis is a ballet in two acts with a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, music by Adolphe Adam, and choreography by Jean Coralli andJules Perrot. The librettist took his inspiration from a poem by Heinrich Heine. The ballet tells the story of a peasant girl named Giselle whose ghost, after her premature death, protects her lover from the vengeance of a group of evil female spirits called the Wilis. Giselle was first presented by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris, France, on 28 June 1841. The choreography in modern productions generally derives from the revivals of Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet (1884, 1899, 1903).
The ballet is set in the Rhineland of the Middle Ages during the grape harvest. When the curtain rises on the first act, the cottage of Giselle and her mother Berthe is seen on one side, and opposite is seen the cottage of Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a nobleman who has disguised himself as a peasant named Loys in order to sow a few wild oats before his marriage to Bathilde, the daughter of the Prince of Houston. Against the advice of his squire Wilfrid, Albrecht flirts with a peasant girl named Giselle who falls completely in love with him. Hilarion, a gamekeeper, is also in love with Giselle and warns the girl against trusting the stranger, but Giselle refuses to listen. Albrecht and Giselle dance a love duet, with Giselle picking the petals from a daisy to divine her lover's sincerity. The couple is interrupted by Giselle's mother, who, worried about her daughter's fragile health, ushers the girl into the cottage.
Horns are heard in the distance and Loys retreats from the scene. A hunting party enters and refreshments are served. Among the hunters are Bathilde and her father. Giselle returns to the scene, dances for the party, and receives a necklace from Bathilde. When the party departs, Loys reappears with the grape harvesters. A celebration begins. Giselle and the harvesters dance but the merriment is brought to a halt by Hilarion who, having investigated the Duke's cottage now brandishes the nobleman's horn and sword. The horn is sounded, and the hunting party returns. The truth about Loys (Albrecht) is learned and Giselle goes mad and dies. Although Giselle takes Albrecht's sword, her death is actually a result of her weak heart.
The second act is set in a moonlit glade near Giselle's grave. Hilarion is grieving Giselle's death. He is frightened from the glade by the Wilis, female spirits who, jilted before their wedding day, rise from their graves at night and seek revenge upon men by dancing them to death. Giselle is summoned from her grave and welcomed by the supernatural creatures who then quickly disappear. Albrecht enters searching for Giselle's grave, and she appears before him. He begs forgiveness. Giselle, her love undiminished, readily forgives him and the two dance. The scene ends with Albrecht in pursuit of Giselle as she disappears into the forest.
Hilarion enters pursued by the Wilis who throw him to his death in a nearby lake. The Wilis then surround Albrecht and sentence him to death. He begs to be spared but Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis refuses. Giselle protects him from the Wilis when they force him to dance. Day breaks and the Wilis retreat to their graves, but Giselle's love has saved Albrecht. By not succumbing to feelings of vengeance and hatred that define the Wilis, Giselle is freed from any association with them, and returns to her grave to rest in peace.