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Léon MINKUS (1826-1917)
Don Quixote – ballet in prologue and three acts - (1869) [120:00]
Original choreography: Petipa/Gorsky
Revised choreography: Ledjakh/Varlamova/Azarin-Messerer
Aleksandr Astafiev … Don Quixote
Evgeny Katusov … Sancho Panza
Nina Ananiashvili … Kitri/Dulcinea
Alexei Fadeyechev … Basil
Vladimir Golub … Gamache
Viktor Alikin … Kitri’s father
Andrei Zhuravlyov … Matador
Elena Kulagina … Dancing girl
Rimma Siraeva … Mercedes
Natalya Guseva … Girl
Natalya Moiseeva … Girl
Galina Frolova … Dryad queen
Pavel Sheshukov … Duke
Valentina Chizhevskaya … Duchess
Elena Yugova … Gypsy
Pavel Sheshukov … Old gypsy
Sergei Zykov  … Tavernkeeper
Tchaikovsky Perm State Ballet
Shinsei Nihon Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Sotnikov
Directed by Shuji Fujii
rec. live performance, NHK Hall, Tokyo, 20 September 1992
VAI 4451 [120:00]


Experience Classicsonline

Cervantes’s picaresque novel has inspired many composers to set at least some of its episodes to music. In Britain alone they range over three centuries from Henry Purcell (The Comical History of Don Quixote, 1694) to Ronald Stevenson (Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: a bagatelle cycle, 1982-1983).

By the mid-19th century, the comic possibilities of one particular storyline – two young lovers’ attempts to sabotage the girl’s father’s plan to marry her off to a wealthy buffoon – had already provided inspiration for operas by Telemann (Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho, 1761) and Mendelssohn (Die Hochzeit des Camacho, 1827, a great musical rarity that was well received in London last year when presented by University College Opera). 

And that same episode remained the focus when, in 1867, choreographer Marius Petipa, planning a new ballet for the Bolshoi company, commissioned Léon Minkus to compose a suitable score. 

Given that premise, the resulting work rather relegates the eponymous Don and his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza to the sidelines and, although a brief prologue establishes their essential characters, they appear thereafter largely as ineffective – or even passive - spectators of the lovers’ romantic shenanigans (the major exception being the inclusion of an obligatory “tilting at windmills” scene for Quixote). 

The central focus lies very much instead on the young lovers Kitri and Basil, both roles offering frequent opportunities for displays of balletic virtuosity set to Minkus’s intensely rhythmic and colourful score. Unlike Petipa’s better known ballet scored by the same composer, La Bayadère (1877), this is no tragic story of passion and thwarted love: it is, from the outset, inconceivable that Kitri and Basil’s optimistic determination to be together will fail to triumph, by hook or by crook, over the puffed-up boobies who oppose their intentions. 

The role of Kitri was a signature one for Nina Ananiashvili and she plays it with immense élan for all it is worth. The fact that she has passably “Spanish” looks is a great help as she communicates the unadulterated joy of a young girl in love. It is, moreover, a delight to see, from her facial expressions during the frequent pauses for audience applause, that she is – entirely justifiably – very pleased with herself and her technique. In her Act II personification as Don Quixote’s fantasy Dulcinea, Ananiashvili demonstrates equal mastery of an alternative characterisation that requires restraint, poise and elegance rather than Kitri’s vivacity and high spirits. 

She is clearly very much at one with her regular partner Alexei Fadeyechev and, while his on stage personality is rather less striking, he never gives less – and sometimes gives far more – than a worthwhile performance. I challenge anyone to watch the final five minutes of the last Act, where the pair of them attempt outrageously to out-dance each other, without emerging with the broadest of grins. 

Of the rest of the cast, only Andrei Zhuravlyov and Elena Kulagina, as the (entirely superfluous to the plot) matador and his dancing girl, have the opportunities for extensive – and flashy – solo work that allow them to make a comparably strong impression. Even so, this is clearly a well-drilled and very skilled company that is putting its collective heart into the very enjoyable score. Often typical of Minkus in his rum-ti-tum mode, it will certainly appeal to anyone who enjoys Rimsky-Korsakov’s Spanish Caprice or Glinka’s Spanish Overtures. 

The Tokyo-based Shinsei Nihon Symphony Orchestra plays very competently, even though one imagines that they may not have been as well versed in the score as the Tchaikovsky Perm State Ballet’s own orchestra (which, I imagine, given Russia’s economic difficulties in the early 1990s, was probably left at home). Alexander Sotnikov conducts, as one might expect, an entirely idiomatic reading. 

There is nothing particularly special about this production’s sets but the costumes are attractive in a flashily clichéd Spanish way and give added emphasis to the more energetic dancing. The film’s Japanese director may not, though, have not been too familiar with the work or else may not have been given sufficient rehearsal time, for his camera angles can sometimes be a little odd and, as a consequence, we viewers occasionally miss a significant piece of stage business. 

VAI’s presentation lets the enterprise down a little, too. The DVD itself would have been far easier to navigate had it had more tracks, while the single insert page of printed information offers no guidance at all to anyone who comes new to the story or, indeed, to this particular production with its several idiosyncrasies. 

Nevertheless, overall this is a most enjoyable performance that captures on film a charismatic artist at the height of her powers.

Rob Maynard



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