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Leo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Sylvia - ballet in three acts with choreography by Frederick Ashton (1876)
Sylvia … Darcey Bussell
Aminta … Roberto Bolle
Orion … Thiago Soares
Eros … Martin Harvey
Diana … Mara Galeazzi
The Royal Ballet
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Graham Bond
rec. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 1, 5 December 2005
OPUS ARTE OA0986D [117:00]

Sylvia was first produced at the Palais Garnier, Paris on 14 June 1876, four years after Delibes other big success, Coppélia. Of Delibes’s Sylvia music, Tchaikovsky, who saw the ballet in Vienna in 1877, enthused, “It is the first ballet in which the music constitutes not just the main but the only interest. What charm and elegance, what riches in the melody, the rhythm, the harmony. I was ashamed. If I had known this music before, I would not have written Swan Lake.”. Praise indeed, but Tchaikovsky is being very hard on the other elements of this charming ballet based on classical mythology.
Frederick Ashton choreographed the production, featured on this DVD, first performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on 3 September 1952. Ashton was not completely satisfied with it, however, and it was put aside. The production languished for forty years or so; and by now Ashton had died. The realization and staging of this 2005 production is the work of Christopher Newton who had danced under the direction of Ashton and was aware of the sort of refinements the great choreographer had in mind. Newton is interviewed about all this in the interviews before Act III of the ballet.
The sets and lighting are sumptuous and atmospheric, the costumes gorgeous and colourful. Delibes’ music is full of melody, one memorable tune succeeding another right through the ballet. Darcey Bussell enchants as the warrior nymph, Sylvia; arrogant in her taunting of the statue of the god Eros who repays her by shooting her with an arrow of love so that she falls for the enamored, shepherd, Aminta (Roberto Bolle). She is gracefully athletic especially in her dances with her two male leads: Bolle and Thiago Soares as the evil Orion who lusts after Sylvia and kidnaps the nymph, carrying her off to his island lair. Here, in Act II Darcey has to dance seductively to divert the attentions of Orion, to make him drunk so that she might escape - an escape made possible by a disguised Eros. Arguably Bussell does not have the figure for seductive dancing, she is also too graceful and stately, so the dance is sinuous rather than seductive. The two male leads are strong and acrobatic, displaying tremendous leaps. The corps de ballet impress throughout with beautiful ensemble dancing and the speciality dancers – the orientals in Act II and the goats in Act III - are quite charming.
The DVD includes interviews with Christopher Newton and Peter Farmer who added his special design talents to the original sets of Robin and Christopher Ironside. Before each act Darcy Bussell comments on the ballet and we see her and others in rehearsal and behind the scenes and between acts during the performance. Illustrated synopses of the action in each of the ballet’s three acts are also enclosed.
David Nice’s erudite note details Delibes music as applied to the dances and shows how the composer was influenced by Berlioz and Wagner. Elgar, as a young man, Nice reminds us, played the violin in a Birmingham performance of the Sylvia Suite and later conducted it himself. Moreover, Nice claims, Delibes’s broad ‘Bacchus’ theme, influenced Elgar’s First Pomp and Circumstance March.
A beautiful production of this charming ballet with a wonderfully melodic score by Delibes.
Ian Lace


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