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Georges BIZET (1838-1875) arranged Rodion SHCHEDRIN (1932- )
Carmen Ballet (choreography Mats Ek)
The Cullberg Ballet, Swedish TV 1991
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 182, DVD Format 4:3, PCM Stereo, 51mins.
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Shchedrin wrote his "Carmen Suite" as a one-act ballet which was first staged at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1967. The music was a great success and has been recorded several times; it was composed for strings and percussion (including vibraphone) - an unlikely combination on the face of things but which here is very successful. Shchedrin has written that "in my view, the ballet orchestra should always sound several degrees 'hotter' than the opera orchestra". With his virtuoso writing he certainly achieved this aim.
Since the original Bolshoi ballet, there have been several ballets created using Shchedrin's music. The version on this disc was created by Mats Ek and first produced in Stockholm by the Cullberg Ballet which performs here, as produced for a film by Swedish TV.
The choreography is remarkable and Mats Ek makes his dancers undertake most unusual gyrations some of which look extremely painful. The stage is in almost darkness most of the time and the scenery consists of a single boulder and a plain background with large coloured dots. It looks extreme and rather avant gard but in practice soon seems very natural. The men, with the exception of Escamillo are dressed in drab near-black costumes and the only colour is in the gypsy dresses of the women.
What stands out here is passion. The ballet goes back to the original novel of Prosper Mérimée and concentrates on sexual passions of the main characters. All too often productions of Bizet's opera are like a picture postcard of a Spanish holiday with a hint of stagy melodrama. Not here though. Sexuality steams out of every movement of Ana Laguna as Carmen. Marc Hwang as José is a truly tragic character - a decent fellow completely out of his depth in his relationship with this sensual, forceful and independent woman. He is doomed because Carmen can never be satisfied with a relationship. Yvan Auzely is magnificent as Escamillo and Pompea Santoro plays a real character unlike the Micaela of the Opera.
The whole ballet sizzles with passion and eroticism. You don't have to be an American president to appreciate the symbolic force of the large cigars which are smoked with such gusto by these characters.
The production and filming is exemplary. The name of the conductor is not given , but he or she does well, but the slow tempo adopted (very effectively) in the last part of the ballet adds about five minutes extra to the normal timing; the orchestral playing is good but this is clearly a smallish theatre orchestra which lacks the large volume of luscious strings used in the CD recordings of Shchedrin's Suite.
At only 50 minutes the disc may seem poor value for money but the force and power of this production makes this a truly memorable artistic experience. Recommended.

Arthur Baker

At only 50 minutes the disc may seem poor value for money but the force and power of this production makes this a truly memorable artistic experience. Recommended.




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