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Peter Ilych TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
The Nutcracker – complete ballet, Op. 71 (1892)
Natalya Arkhipova - Clara
Irek Mukhamedov – The Nutcracker Prince
Andrei Shakhin – The Mouse King
Yuri Vetrov - Drosselmeyer
Andrei Sitnikov – Stahlbaum
Ilze Liepe – Mrs. Stahlbaum
The Bolshoi Ballet and the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre/Aleksandr Kopilov.
Recorded live at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow in 1989
DVD (PCM Stereo)
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101119 [101:00]

This DVD is in the same series as the recent Sleeping Beauty, and the production, as then, is based upon the choreography of Marius Petipa and staged by Yuri Grigorovich. This is the sort of production that would make it worthwhile going to Moscow for Christmas, such is its quality.

Tchaikovsky’s fairy-tale ballet is based upon a story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816. It deals with the little girl of the Stahlbaum family and her activities over one Christmas Eve. This began life as a German fairy story but it is unlikely that Tchaikovsky knew the original. Originally negative towards the story as the basis for a ballet, Tchaikovsky gradually became more and more positive until at last, this wonderful ballet was written.

Act I starts with the general bustle of preparations for Christmas in the Stahlbaum household. Clara is enormously attracted to one of the toys, which are arranged around the Christmas tree, namely a wooden Nutcracker Doll. As midnight approaches, an army of mice appear and start attacking the children. The Nutcracker, at the magic time of midnight comes alive and is transformed into a prince, and with the help of further presents of toy soldiers also come alive, sets about defeating the Mouse King and his followers. The Prince shoots the Mouse King and he and his army are defeated. The prince then takes Clara to the Sweet Kingdom. And this section is the whole of Act II, made up of characteristic dances as various different characters come forward and perform their wares.

This part of the ballet is where most of the famous Nutcracker Suite comes from. At the conclusion of the ballet, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are transported back to the house, where everything is back to normal (as it would be in a fairy story), ready for the celebrations of Christmas the following morning.

This fine production has been filmed in such a way that the noise of feet clumping on the floor is entirely absent, so making it a pleasure to listen to, unlike many DVDs of ballet where the foot noise is clearly evident. It shares this benefit with the Sleeping Beauty, mentioned above.

As before, the orchestra plays superbly under its conductor Aleksandr Kopilov, and the interpretation not only sounds right, but supports the dancers superbly well. The sets are also traditional, presumably being updated, as are the costumes, to take advantage of modern technology. Visually, this production is an absolute feast.

The standard of dancing at the Bolshoi, based upon the evidence of this and the previous DVD is magnificent. Unlike productions in this country where the same soloists generally appear with various productions, here there are only two dancers common to both productions. The two leads, Natalya Arkhipova and Irek Mukhamedov are both outsanding, making the effort of dancing their demanding parts seem effortless.

Like the previous production of the Sleeping Beauty, this production is recorded live, with the audience noise restricted in the main to the end of many of the set pieces. Given the standard of performance, I was ready to join them.

You are probably aware that I liked this DVD immensely. I recommend it with all enthusiasm.

Another traditional staging of one of Tchaikovsky’s masterpieces of the stage, allowing us to appreciate the traditional staging and choreography so healthily presented on this DVD.
John Phillips




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