Le Papillon was originally choreographed by the great Romantic ballerina Marie Taglioni in 1860. Taglioni created this ballet for her star pupil, the French ballerina Emma Livry, for whom she famously revived her father’s original version of La Sylphide in 1858.
The ballet premiered at the Paris Opéra on the 26th November 1860 with Emma Livry as Farfalla, Louis Mérante as Prince Djalma and Louise Marquet as Hamza. The ballet was met with a mixed response, but Emma Livry’s performance was a huge success with the critics praising her “exquisite charm” and “rare audacity”.
Emma Livry, however, was not destined to enjoy a career as long and successful as that of her teacher’s. In November 1862, tragedy struck when during rehearsals for the opera La Muette de Portici, Livry was horrifically burned when her costume caught alight on one of the theatre gas lamps. This tragic accident ended not only her career, but her life. Nine months later, Emma Livry died on the 26thJuly 1863, aged 20. The Paris Opéra and the Paris balletomanes went into mourning and thousands crowded the streets on the day of her funeral, which was held at the Church of Notre-Dame de Lorette on the 29th July. Among those who attended were Alphonse Gautier, Secretary-General to the Ministry of the Emperor’s Household and Fine Arts, Émile Perrin, Director of the Opéra, Théophile Gautier, Alexandre Dumas fils, the ballerina Carolina Rosati and of course, Marie Taglioni. Emma Livry is buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris; her grave is besides those of Gaétan Vestris (father of Auguste Vestris), Théophile Gautier and Vaslav Nijinsky.