Certain aspects of these productions can be bundled together.
They both look good with unfussy camera work save for the unfortunate
placing of a high microphone which regularly comes into view stage
left in long high shots. I may have been aware of this because I
review with a large picture, those watching a normal TV may not
even notice so do not let it put you off. The sound is excellent
with enough clarity to make one aware of the gentle tapping of the
Corps de Ballet's feet in some scenes. These are both straight films
of single publicly staged performances. The films actually give
specific dates at the start. So you are here at the ballet but with
the benefit of a perfect view and without the disadvantages of people
unwrapping and eating chocolates all around you. (Why do ballet
audiences do that, don't they like music?) Both stagings look wonderful
with superb and fairly traditional costumes. On the supremely important
musical front, these are great scores, the orchestra of the Deutsche
Staatsoper play as well as any I have ever heard and Daniel Barenboim
takes the music as seriously as it deserves. As audio alone both
ballets sound magnificent. The solo playing of various section leaders
is very fine indeed and awarded with curtain calls from the stage
at the end, the which recognition they richly deserve. Incidentally,
how good to be able to watch and hear lots of curtain calls without
being interrupted by presenters' babble as always happens on the
Did I mention there's dancing? Oliver Matz (Siegfried in Swan
Lake and Drosselmeyer in Nutcracker) ) who is a principal of the
company, is spectacularly good, doing all that leaping stuff with
huge skill and grace and emoting his complex characters with all
the style and professionalism of a stage actor. Steffi Scherzer
(Odette / Odile in Swan Lake) is similarly good, taking on her
two contrasting characters and moving one with the tragedy of
the one and the evil of the other. Every soloist and every member
of the Corps de Ballet manages to convey characters both small
and large with an absorption in their roles that belies the fact
that they also have to move like Olympic athletes to a complex
score. This is utterly first class.
Now to the more contentious issues which may stop some balletomanes
in their tracks. Though the choreography, on which I am no expert,
is based on the original settings, the story lines of both ballets
have been revised and updated in a post-Freudian manner to which
one must adjust if one is to settle and enjoy the superb dancing.
The only way to warn potential purchasers is to recount very briefly
the "concept" which has been imposed on each ballet
and which is detailed in the useful notes accompanying both sets.
Originally Tchaikovsky, Begichev and Heltser set the story in
4 Acts. On this DVD Swan Lake is restructured into 2 acts and
given a major plot reworking. A study of the politics leading
up to the first production of Swan Lake in 1877 shows that such
reworking had been inflicted even during Tchaikovsky's lifetime,
so it is not of itself grounds for censure (see Brown, D: Tchaikovsky:
To the Crisis 1840-1878, Gollancz 1992 pp.67-80). In Bart's production
Prince Siegfried is almost enslaved by his mother the young widowed
Queen. He needs to escape this domination and the domination of
others at court, including the overtly erotic attentions of his
friend Benno, by making a free choice of his own. This he does
by swearing eternal faithfulness to Odette. This precipitates
a crisis in which his mother hatches political plots to divert
Siegfried, culminating in Siegfried betraying Odette, murdering
the Queen's minister and then casting himself into the lake. The
ballet ends with the Queen in despair at having lost everyone
she loves. It works, and the ballet suffers only a change of emphasis.
However, that change does make the classic title "Swan Lake"
a bit of a misnomer because the swans and the lake are less significant
than the political plotting and Siegfried's Oedipus complex.
If I may abbreviate and paraphrase Guido Johannes Joerg's interesting
note. In his choreography and production of The Nutcracker Patrice
Bart placed a prologue before the ballet whose purpose was to
clarify the story in which Marie was abducted as a young child.
Russian revolutionaries had attacked Marie and her aristocratic
family and killed her father. The mother survived but went missing,
leaving the traumatised little girl to believe that she lives
in an imaginary land of ice and snow. She was adopted, but there
she does not feel happy and so does not get on with her siblings.
She is not a "normal" child, playing with toys on Christmas
Eve because the trauma will not leave her. Drosselmeyer knows
of Marie's history. He leads her back to her mother. He brings
the Nutcracker to life and reconciles Marie with her past. The
Nutcracker is not a Christmas present from Drosselmeyer but a
toy which she has always carried with her since before the abduction.
The wooden puppet, whose uniform awakens memories of her father
is the catalyst for Marie's renewed confrontation with the gruesome
events in the dream. Therapeutically speaking it is the first
step to becoming aware, towards healing. Drosselmeyer leads Marie
back to her mother in the land of ice and snow, which in the end
reveals itself as a land of love. It is a lovely concept but again
not the original. Again it works and in many respects makes better
sense of the rather unsatisfactory story Tchaikovsky set in which
he tells the tale in Act 1 and then adds a divertissement in Act
2 to keep the public happy. Bart's version is coherent.
see also review
by John Phillips