This performance is fairly recent, but due to market
forces (I suppose), it is now released with Swan Lake in a double
DVD box from the same ballet company.
First reactions to this performance were that in many
ways it is the best film of the ballet that I have seen. Further watching
has brought me to the conclusion that it is far from perfect.
First of all, the Director has seen fit to re-interpret
the story of the Nutcracker with some crackpot idea that we need to
understand the motivations behind the story. Whether you agree with
this or not is down to whether you consider Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece
actually needs this kind of re-interpretation – it is a fairy story
after all! What manifestations result from this idea? First of all,
the well known overture to the ballet is prefaced by No. 7 Scene. Patrice
Bart placed a prologue before the ballet. Its purpose was to elucidate
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 traumatized little
girl to believe that she lives in an imaginary land of ice and snow.
She was adopted by the Stahlbaum family, but there she does not feel
happy and so does not get on with her siblings Fritz and Luiza. She
is not a "normal" child, playing with toys, carefree and happy
on Christmas Eve; the trauma will not leave her. This is where the wondrous
figure of Drosselmeyer comes into the story. Drosselmeyer knows of Marie’s
history. He intends to lead her back to her mother, so he brings the
Nutcracker to life and reconciles Marie with her past.
In Bart’s version, 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 event in the dream — therapeutically speaking it is
the first step towards becoming aware, towards healing. Drosselmeyer
leads Marie back to her mother in her land of ice and snow, which in
the end reveals itself as a land of love: the Nutcracker changes into
a Prince. The visible and the hidden, reality and dream, the power of
imagination and love — all of these are picked out as central themes
and interpreted in the dance.
As I said at the beginning, whether you can accept
this or not depends upon your approach to this fairy story – myself,
I can’t see the point – after all Tchaikovsky’s ballet has stood the
test of time without such psychological tinkerings.
Where the benefits of such recordings come firmly into
place is in the dancing, sets and above all the orchestral playing of
the Berlin Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim. Although the dancing
is often superb, many of the competing versions, are let down in the
orchestral department with dull, lifeless playing. Here, on the other
hand, we have a superb orchestra, albeit stuck into a small pit, playing
as if their very lives depended upon it. Even where Barenboim slows
the tempo down to suit the choreography, there is a passion and sonority
in the playing which I found very arresting.
The other drawback of ballet scores is there I am afraid
(some floor noise) but this is not too distracting, given the superb
attack of the playing of the orchestra.
For those who are interested in these things, the Prince
has the biggest "codpiece" that I have ever seen in ballet
– no wonder Mary is usually smiling.
Provided you are not put off by the re-interpretation
of the story, this is a superb issue and will be enjoyed by all. Very
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSY (1840 - 1893)
Swan Lake - complete ballet (1872)
Steffi Scherzer, Odette / Odile
Olivier Matz, Prince Siegfried
Bettina Thiel, Siegfried’s Mother / The Queen
Torsten Handler, Rotbart
Jens Weber, Benno von Sommerstein
Corps de Ballet, Deutsche
Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by Daniel Barenboim
Choreographer and Staging by Patrice Bart, Stage Direction and Costume
Designer by Louisa Spinatelli, Direction by Alexandre Tarta, Produced
by Francois Duplat.
recorded at the Berlin Staastoper, 1998 (DVD).
ARTHAUS 100 001
This performance is fairly recent, but due to market
forces, no doubt, is now released with The Nutcracker in a double
DVD box from the same ballet company. Just like the same company’s Nutcracker
recording this will be a first choice against competing sets.
Duplat’s production of Tchaikovsky’s first and most
symphonic ballet score is superbly danced with excellent sets. This
is matched by an absolutely first rate interpretation of the music by
the Berlin Staatskapelle under its Music Director, Daniel Barenboim.
Although this production has the story of the ballet
supposedly re-interpreted, the effect seems to be a re-arrangement of
some of the numbers out of their usual sequence, plus additional items
orchestrated by Riccardo Drigo. I am at a loss to understand why Tchaikovsky’s
masterpiece can be butchered in this way, particularly with a conductor
like Barenboim involved. There is nothing wrong with Tchaikovsky’s score,
nor his interpretation of the story, but I suppose the modern way is
to throw out anything traditional and to "update" the work.
Many other companies also change the order of the pieces and introduce
cuts, so I suppose I should stop complaining. Today, the Stage Director
seems to control all the action. On this recording the following items
are missing – Nos. 6, 7, 9, 16 and 17. Most of the well known items
are here however, with some out of sequence.
The sets are superb, quite orthodox in appearance,
giving the traditionally dressed performers a wonderful atmosphere in
which to work. The sets are very subdued, and do not take attention
away from the action on the floor. I find this very satisfying.
Sound quality is excellent as is picture quality with
state of the art formats as follows: Sound – PCM Digital and Dolby Digital
5.1, Menu codes in German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch
and Swedish. Picture format is 16:9, but I found that watching on a
4:3 screen, no significant hardship was noticed.
By far and away the best part of this recording was
the playing and interpretation of the score by the orchestra under the
leadership of Daniel Barenboim. I hadn’t come across Barenboim as a
ballet conductor before, but have attended quite a few of his orchestral
concerts and possess many of his recordings. His live concerts, although
never 100% perfect, have a frisson about them, and this comes over in
this disc loud and clear. In addition, in the Berlin Staatskapelle,
he has an orchestra which can deliver the goods exceptionally well (he
has been their Music Director now since 1992) and has developed them
into a band of high distinction.
Steffi Scherzer, (Odile / Odette), is the prima ballerina
at the Berlin company, and one can see why. Her interpretation of the
dual role is superb, with her dancing bringing out the tenderness and
evil of the twin characters.
Oliver Matz (Price Siegfried) has been with the Company
since 1980, and his experience in many roles has prepared him well for
Swan Lake. Unfortunately for the other artists, their parts are
much less important than those for the two principals. I could not detect
a poor performance from any of the other principals, and this recording
offered unalloyed pleasure.
The booklet offers notes in German, English and French.
The only error in the booklet was that the track numbering is a little
bit inaccurate; it does not tie in with the tracks right from the beginning.
Allowing for its relatively small drawbacks, this DVD,
coupled with the same company’s interpretation of Nutcracker,
is superb value for money.