The Australian Ballet

How Marguerite and Armand inspired Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge 900x595 1

Moulin Rouge! 2001
Photo ©20th Century Fox

How does a semi-autobiographical novel written in 1848 become a jukebox musical in 2001? When Alexandre Dumas fils wrote La Dame aux Camélias, he couldn't have known the impact his story of a dying courtesan and her young lover would have 175 years later. From Maguerite and Armand to Moulin Rouge! Behind Ballet investigates some of the works inspired by Dumas.

Whether it’s a reboot of an iconic sitcom, a beloved book adaptation into a film juggernaut or a musical remix, creatives have been inspired by each other for as long as they have been creating. These days we go so far as to remake works that have barely had time to settle into the cultural zeitgeist.

Davenport 0 Jean Margaret Davenport c1850s

Jean Margaret Davenport 1850s
Photo Harvard Theatre Collection

La Dame aux Camélias/Camille/The Fate of a Coquette

Alexandre Dumas fils published the novel in 1848 and by 1852 had already adapted it into a stage play. Premiering on February 2, 1852, at the Théâtre du Vaudeville in Paris, the production was a huge hit and remains Dumas fils most popular play with audiences around the world.

The first American adaptation of the play premiered in 1853 with British actress Jean Davenport in the lead role. This version was far more conservative than the original and removed the more scandalous aspects of the story. The leading lady became a coquette who dies from her party lifestyle instead of the consumptive courtesan. Future versions would go on to update the title to Camille, or the Fate of a Coquette, a Play with Music in Five Acts, changing the heroine’s name from Marguerite to Camille.

Catherine Malfitano dans Traviata par Claude Truong Ngoc 1980 Par Claude Truong Ngoc CC BY SA 3 0

Catherine Malfitano in La traviata, 1980
Photo © Claude Truong-Ngoc

La traviata

Giuseppe Verdi was inspired by the success of Dumas fils’ play, putting the story to the now famous opera, La traviata (The Fallen Woman). Francesco Maria Piave wrote the accompanying libretto and the opera premiered at La Fenice opera house in Venice on March 6, 1853. The leading role of Marguerite Gautier received another name change, this time to Violetta Valéry, and Armand is renamed to Alfredo Germont.

Verdi initially believed La traviata to be a failure after its premiere, however it remains one of the most frequently performed and popular operas today.

By Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor in Camille (1936)


La Dame aux Camélias has been adapted into numerous films across the world. Actress Sarah Bernhardt stepped into the coveted role in the 1911 French film adaptation after performing the play across London, Paris and New York. In 1936 George Cukor would direct the Hollywood blockbuster Camille, starring Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor and Lionel Barrymore.


Kathleen Breen Combes and Yury Yanowsky of Boston Ballet in Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias ©Gene Schiavone

Marguerite and Armand/Lady of the Camellias

After Sir Frederick Ashton adapted Dumas fils’ story into a choreographic masterpiece for ballets’ power couple, Rudolf Nureyev and Magot Fonteyn, other choreographers followed. John Neumeier created Lady of the Camellias in 1978 for Stuttgart Ballet prima ballerina Marica Haydee, and the 1990s saw new versions of the tale by choreographers Veronica Paeper (Camille, 1990) and Val Caniparoli (Lady of the Camellias, 1994).

Moulin Rouge

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge! 2001
Photo 20th Century Fox

Moulin Rouge!

Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical film, Moulin Rouge! takes inspiration from the tragic love affair. Returning the lovers to France, Moulin Rouge! is set in Paris during the early 19th century at the famed cabaret venue. Courtesan Camille becomes Satine, played by Nicole Kidman and the young and impressionable writer Christian, played by Ewan McGregor is Luhrmann’s take on Armand.

The film was adapted into a stage show in 2018 with updated music and continues to enchant audiences with its glamorous take on Dumas fils' original story.

You can watch Sir Frederick Ashton's passionate ballet in the exclusive Sydney season of Marguerite and Armand this November.

The Dream / Marguerite and Armand