Before the opening night, the ballet was advertised under the tentative titles of Gay Mabille and Tortoni, after a Paris café, but Manuel Rosenthal recalled that Count Étienne de Beaumont, the ballet's librettist, eventually came up with the title that was used at the premiere.
Massine had originally commissioned this ballet from Roger Désormière, but, owing to lack of time, he asked his friend Rosenthal to take on the commission. Initially not inclined to fulfill the assignment, Rosenthal reportedly said, "I don't know Offenbach well; I'm not used to orchestrating the music of other people; I don't want to do it; I don't know Miasine ". However, Désormière was insistent enough that Rosenthal eventually accepted the task.
With advice from Nadia Boulanger, Massine directed Rosenthal's selection of the Offenbach excerpts. After completion of the score, Massine was unsure about it and was inclined to reject it. Rosenthal then proposed that Igor Stravinsky act as arbitrator over the acceptance of the score, to which Massine agreed. Upon hearing the music, Stravinsky strongly advised Massine to accept Rosenthal's arrangements. However, because of the poor relations between Massine and Rosenthal, Rosenthal himself did not conduct the first performance of the ballet, and instead Efrem Kurtz was conductor for the ballet's premiere.
Gaîté Parisienne was first presented in the United States by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on 12 October 1938, with Alexandra Danilova as the Glove Seller and Delarova, Lauret, Franklin, Youskevitch, and Massine in the same roles they had danced at the premiere in Monte Carlo. Danilova, who had shared the role of the Glove Seller with Tarakanova in Europe, became indelibly associated with the role in America. Unlike Tarakanova, who had played the Glove Seller as demure and naive, Danilova portrayed her as a vivacious, glamorous, sophisticated woman of the world. "Danilova in Gaîté became one of the attractions of the Ballet Russe, and the ballet often concluded a season's opening-night performance. On the opening night of the company's 1941 season in New York, when Danilova made her first entrance she was given a spontaneous ovation that stopped the show. Such show-stopping ovations thenceforth became a tradition of every opening-night Gaîté with Danilova."
The charming role of the Flower Girl was choreographed especially to suit the talents and abilities of Eugenia Delarova, Massine's second wife, and she was ideally suited to its exuberant lyricism. Frederic Franklin, young, blond, and handsome, was perfectly cast as the Baron and was long known for that role. Jeannette Lauret, a statuesque dancer with sparkling eyes, was also particularly admired as La Lionne, which she performed many times. After Massine left the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1943, Leon Danielian eventually inherited the role of the Peruvian and became closely identified with it. Over time, he altered the original choreography to suit his personal style and invented new mannerisms for comic effect, virtually re-creating the character. He was much admired in the role and was said by many to have exceeded the characterization of the originator.
Other productions of Massine's Gaîté Parisienne were mounted by the Royal Swedish Ballet (1956), American Ballet Theatre (1970), London Festival Ballet (1973), and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo (1989). Lorca Massine staged a revival of his father's ballet for American Ballet Theatre in 1988, with scenery by Zack Brown and extravagantly inappropriate costumes by French fashion designer Christian Lacroix. The production was not a success and was soon dropped from the repertory.
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