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Piotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Sleeping Beauty - ballet in prologue and three acts (1890) [135:00]
Original choreography: Marius Petipa
Additional choreography: Frederick Ashton/Anthony Dowell/Christopher Wheeldon
Alina Cojocaru - Princess Aurora
Federico Bonelli -  Prince Florimund
Marianela Nuñez -  Lilac fairy
Genesia Rosato -  Carabosse
Christopher Saunders - King Florestan XXIV
Elizabeth McGorian - His queen
The Royal Ballet
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Valeriy Ovsyanikov
Directed by Ross MacGibbon
rec. live performance, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 5 December 2006
OPUS ARTE OA0995D [135:00]
Experience Classicsonline

Is it possible to hear a Tchaikovsky ballet score without thereafter humming one of its famous melodies? 
 
Here we have a visual record of a very enjoyable Royal Ballet production of The Sleeping Beauty.  Presented as part of the company’s celebrations marking Sir Frederick Ashton’s centenary, it was, in fact, a welcome revival of the celebrated 1946 Sleeping Beauty that had provided a significant post-war boost to both the company’s morale and its wider reputation.
 
The production is set in an historically anachronistic fairyland where male courtiers wearing Elizabethan ruffs partner ladies-in-waiting who look like they have just come from supping tea, more than a century later, with Queen Anne.  In similar fantasy mode, King Florestan celebrates his infant daughter’s christening by wearing a crown that a five year old child might have drawn and, somewhat incongruously for a child’s party, an armoured breastplate!
 
More seriously, though, this is, in the literal sense, a rather dark production.  Sometimes that is appropriate.  The darkly lit “panorama” episode where the prince and Lilac Fairy journey through thick forests (Leylandii in fairyland?) is, for instance, particularly well conceived and executed.  But elsewhere the sky glimpsed beyond the palace walls never turns bright blue.  Does King Florestan only hold his court either at early dawn or dusk?  And even for Act 3’s wedding celebrations, the royal palace seems to use only 40-watt light bulbs.  Just because something “magical” is supposed to be happening on stage – the courtiers being put into a 100 years sleep or the prince being granted a mystical vision of Princess Aurora – there is, I would suggest, no automatic requirement to go all gloomy!
 
Lighting reservations aside, this is always a very good production – and sometimes rather more than that.  Alina Cojocaru possesses, it goes without saying, all the technique necessary for the role of Aurora and is never less than assured and in obvious command of the space around her.  Perhaps it is a reflection of the nature of the role rather than any criticism of her abilities that she made, to my eyes, less of an impact in Act 1 (The Spell) than in Act 3 (The Wedding).  After all, the earlier Aurora is essentially still a child, more interested, I always suspect, in the roses her aristocratic suitors offer her in the showcase adagio than in any erotic intentions they may have towards her.  Only after Prince Florimund’s kiss has taken effect does she flower to her full romantic potential. 
 
That the prince himself is danced by the suitably young and handsome Federico Bonelli is a decided plus.  He combines sensitivity with virility, delivers mime well and is far better than most male dancers at conveying realistic emotion in his facial expressions.  Making rather more of his role than a simple one-dimensional hero, he is, both visually and technically, a fine partner for Cojocaru: their Act 3 pas de deux is the undoubted highlight of the whole show.
 
Other roles are also well filled.  All the “good” fairies are suitably vivacious, while wicked Carabosse is particularly well cast.  It is good to see a handsome woman – rather than a caricature pantomime dame – in the role and Genesia Rosato, another first-class mime, certainly does a good line in nastiness.  Of the Act 3 wedding guests, I especially enjoyed the characterful Puss in Boots and White Cat of Ricardo Cervera and Natasha Oughtred, while the audience were wowed - as they often are - by Princess Florine (Sarah Lamb) and her gravity defying Bluebird (José Martin). 
 
This is, however, a production where even the smallest parts, taken by unnamed dancers, are often full of character and spirit.  Carabosse’s vermin cohorts make more of an impression than usual, as do the three women chastised for bringing dangerous spindles to court.  The nosey “living trees” in the Red Riding Hood episode also provide an entertaining moment or two.
 
Conductor Valeriy Ovsyanikov leads an idiomatic, theatrical reading that pays close and sympathetic attention to the needs of the artists on stage and is well played by the Opera House’s orchestra (you can hear them at their best in, for instance, the introduction to Act 2).

The DVD itself is well constructed with a clear, simple menu that takes you quickly to the action.  One of its added extras is a verbal synopsis of the plot, so freeing up the booklet for a more discursive essay by Professor Tim Scholl.
 
At the risk of making you green with envy, I’ll admit that I actually saw this production at Covent Garden.  Watching it on stage in three dimensions is inevitably more exciting and involving than seeing a two-dimensional version taking place on the small screen in the corner of your sitting room – but, for those who missed it “live”, this DVD offers a generally excellent alternative. 
 
Rob Maynard
 

 


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