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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Swan Lake, Op 20 (1876) [111.10]
London Festival Ballet: Evelyn Hart, Peter Schaufuss, Martin James, Elizabeth Anderton, Johnny Eliasen.
Produced by Natalia Makarova.
Choreography by Petipa, Ivanov, Ashton and Makarova
Costumes and stage settings by Günther Schneider-Siemssen
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Graham Bond
DVD 9 PAL Format 4:3 Region 2,5. Previews of other programs: (11.00)
Recorded at DR-Studios, Århus, Denmark, 1988
Notes in Deutsch, English, Français. Spoken introduction by Natalia Makarova (6.00)
[Also available from Image Entertainment in a Region 1 NTSC version]
ARTHAUS DVD 100 438 [116.00]


Between 1871 and 1876 four major stage works appeared in Europe, one each in Germany, Italy, France and Russia. These works bear on each other in some remarkable ways. Each of them has the same plot ó someone is being forced for reasons of convention or patriotism to marry somebody they arenít in love with. They arenít going for it, and the course of true love results in most everybody being dead by end-curtain time. All four works are today hailed as transcendent masterpieces in their forms, but two of the four were failures in their first productions. Three of the four works are set in the heroic past which tends to give the theme a monumental, dare I say Biblical, dignity. The other one was set in a foreign country, that is foreign to the audience. In two of these works the hero has the same name. This remarkable synchronised public assault by the artistic intelligentsia from four different countries on conventional European marriage customs eventually had its success in changing things around.

OK, has everybody got Aïda, Götterdämmerung, Carmen ó and Swan Lake?

Perhaps, you say, Iím making too much of all this. After all, Rossiniís Cambiale di Matrimonio of 1810 has a similar plot. Yes, but CdM was a comedy, nobody dies, it was set in what was the present day, and it didnít, and wasnít intended to, make audiences angry. And then Rossini turned around and wrote La Gazza Ladra which has the opposite message ó in troubled times trust in God and do what youíre told and everything will come out all right.

* * *

Although I was sufficiently impressed to have a very good time, some reviewers who have seen many notable performances of Swan Lake tend to find this performance lacklustre. Although in the earlier scenes there seems to be a lot of unaffected walking about on stage, there is some exceptionally fine ensemble dancing here and there, especially in the classical swanlet corps-de-ballet scenes. The four "little swans" are absolutely stunning. For me the star is really Martin James (Benno) who projects a rugged masculine persona, the sort of guy you really would like to go hunting with, who really likes dancing with girls. Peter Schaufuss (Prince Siegfried), who could be replaced by a hydraulic lift on wheels, since his main function seems mostly to be carrying the prima ballerina around on stage, is, except for his few terrific solos, rather pale by comparison. Prima Evelyn Hart has some superb dancing moments; she is a good actress and makes a very evil Odile, as well as a very heartbroken, forgiving Odette. Johnny Eliasen as Rothbart is really scary on stage during the ballroom scene, where everybody is enchanted and apparently sees nothing wrong in the prospective father-in-law being all made out of lead, having no head and waving a twelve foot wingspan. The rest of the time heís replaced in the video by ghostly owl-like projections that are a little over-done. The sets are relatively simple, using rear projections and overall colour changes to shape mood. The use in the final scene of Ďmistí and blue laser projection is very effective in creating the impression of the lake water rising over the stage and drowning the lovers. Although some Ashton choreography is used, they donít use his Ďhappy endingí where the swanlets attack and destroy Rothbart and save the loversí lives. This is the traditional ending where after they drown they move up into the sky and disappear into the moon.

Comic relief is provided by Natalia Makarova reciting what is apparently a Cyrillic phonetic transcription of a summary of the story in English. Nobody could have that heavy an accent and know a single word of English. If your children donít behave, you can threaten to make them watch and listen to her again.

The musical performance is as good as any Iíve heard, avoiding the rushed tempos which often ruin this music in concert performances. The sound is 2.0 stereo, very clear and rich sounding with good bass, but I heard nothing from the rear channels. The string ensemble is razor sharp, the high and low percussion, so important to this score, are clearly present but not obtrusive. The picture is about as clear as film, but definitely not high resolution video. The complete score has 29 numbers; Antal Dorati with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra takes 131.45, André Previn, with the London Symphony Orchestra, 155.38. This performance is substantially complete at 111.10, only some repeats and some of the national dances in the ballroom scene have been cut. But of course the Neapolitan Dance is there, near the beginning of the scene, to serve as a dashing showpiece for Martin James.

Paul Shoemaker


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