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Aleksandr GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Raymonda - Ballet in three acts (1897)
Libretto by Lydia Pashkova and Marius Petipa
Revised choreography by Yuri Grigorovich based on the choreography by Marius Petipa and Aleksandr Gorsky
Raymonda ... Natalya Bessmertnova
Jean de Brienne ...Yuri Vasyuchenko
Abderakhman ... Gedminas Taranda
Countess Sybille ... Elena Bobrova
Clemence ... Maria Bilova
Henriette ... Olga Suvorova 
The Bolshoi Ballet
The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Algis Zhuraitis
Recorded at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow in 1989


The premiere of Raymonda at St Petersburg’s imperial Mariinsky Theatre marked the last important masterpiece of choreographer Marius Petipa, then eighty years old, and the ballet debut of composer Aleksandr Glazunov.  Petipa, one of the most important choreographers of the 19th century, born in Marseilles, had created Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty (all to music by Tchaikovsky) plus La Bayadčre, and Don Quixote.  

Raymonda was not a comfortable collaborative experience for either choreographer or composer. Glazunov, who had been kept on a short creative leash, wanted his score kept intact; Petipa demanded cuts and concise powerful passages with emphatic gestures. As the programme notes relate, “Even today, the many differences between the stage version of the music and the piano score, printed at that time, and the full score, tell of this stubborn struggle, which often prevented fresh changes made during rehearsals ...” The young Glazunov did not understand the importance of staging considerations in ballet music until after the premiere of Raymonda.  The following two collaborations between the two artists were more comfortable; Glazunov holding Petipa in awe.

Glazunov’s music for Raymonda, nicely mixing classical ballet and folkdance material is delightful, tuneful and romantic; and, in many scenes in Acts II and III, tinged with ethnic colour – by turns Spanish, Hungarian, Arabic and oriental etc. The large Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra under Algis Zhuraitis gives the dancers sparkling support bringing out all the music’s allure, its delicacy as well as its bombast.

The production itself, staged in 1989, is to our minds, curiously uneven. The cavernous Bolshoi Theatre stage in Act I set is low-level lit, so much so that one was often tempted to reach for the TV’s brightness control. The dark-hued background drapes did not help, neither did the corps de ballet’s very subdued pastel-shaded tutus. The latter part of Act I is set in the magic garden when Raymonda dreams that she meets her lover, gone off to war, before he is transformed into the dangerous Arab sheikh, Abderahman. This is atmospheric enough but even darker making it not at all easy to recognise all the movements of the (presumably moonlit) silver and black clad corps de ballet.

Things improve in Acts II and III when the lighting is stronger. This reveals, in Act II, the interior of the chateau where Abderahman tries in vain to court Raymonda. His followers dance exotic measures in sumptuous costumes especially the Spanish dance where the women are dressed in seductively-moving, floor-length gowns in white with narrow orange flame-coloured panels.  Act III is really an excuse for dances, mainly Hungarian, to celebrate the betrothal and wedding of Raymonda and her lover, Jean de Brienne who had returned to best Abderahman in the duel at the close of Act II. The costumes, this time ballet-length and full-skirted, some with lovely gold and silver panellings, are, again, richly conceived.

To the dancers: Natalya Bessmertnova, not in the full bloom of youth, is nevertheless excellent in her foot work; her solos when she shows off her skill in slow point movement is quite awesome but her upper body movements are often stiff. Much more overall delicacy and grace is shown in the very impressive youthful support of Olga Suvorova as Henriette and Maria Bilova as Clemence. Yuri Vasyuchenko is a sprightly Jean de Brienne displaying some impressive high leaps and quite astonishingly fast turns in his last act solo but the warmest and most spontaneous applause was reserved for Gedminas Taranda as a most agile and virile Abderakhman.

A not altogether impressive Bolshoi production but it certainly has its moments but then there is that glorious Glazunov music.

Ian and Grace Lace


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