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Léon (Ludwig) MINKUS (1826-1917)
La Bayadère - ballet in three acts (1877)
Altynai Asylmuratoya - Nikiya, The Bayadère;
Irek Mukhamedov – Solor, Bravest warrior in the land;
Darcey Bussell – Gamzatti, Daughter of the Rajah;
Tetsuya Kumakawa – The Bronze Idol;
Anthony Dowell – The High Brahmin;
David Drew – Dugmanta, Rajah of Golkonda
Artists of the Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House Orchestra/John Lanchbery
Directed for Stage by Natalia Makarova
Set Design: Pier Luigi Samaritani
Lighting Design: John B. Read
Costume Design: Yolanda Sonnabend
rec. live, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, March 1991
Directed for TV by Derek Bailey
Picture ratio 4:3, Sound DD5.1, DTS5.1, LPCM Stereo, Region 0

This prestigious realisation of a classical ballet using sumptuous eight 8 metre (that’s 25ft!) high settings and attractive costumes puts many a modern production to shame. Like Coppelia (another TDK release), the majesty of a traditional production warms the heart. As a recording of a live event there are no tatty corners whether in danced performance, orchestral playing or television technique. Bringing together both Russian and British performers makes this production something of an historic landmark.

Nothing is mentioned in the notes about Minkus, a largely forgotten composer who studied the French ballet technique of his time and who in La Bayadère wrote a score that is first class. Born in Czechoslovakia, Minkus is known chiefly for three ballets, Don Quixote, La Bayadère and Paquita. La Bayadère was first presented at St Petersburg before travelling widely: its elegant music being the key to its European success.

This is a production in which the staging at the ROH has been carefully planned and realized. Not only is the plot's development clearly recognizable, but the choreography has been tastefully arranged. Under Lanchbery's baton, the Opera House orchestra plays with sensitivity. At the age of 78, John Lanchbery is an ideal celebrity to direct this high calibre production, having worked with ballet since the ’sixties although he is remembered for his score to the Beatrix Potter ballet in the ’seventies. In La Bayadère the orchestra play magnificently and Lanchbery's pacing is excellent.

Set in India, Solor the noblest warrior, waits in the sacred forest to see his lover, Nikiya, a temple dancer (the Bayadère). She is to be ordained as the dancers' leader and is taken to the Brahmin. Overwhelmed by her beauty the Brahmin declares his love for her and later grows suspicious of a meeting between her and Solor. This opening scene, bathed in shadowy blue light, contrasted with the flames of a sacred fire centre-stage, provides impactful contrast of colour and focus. We share the emotions of the couple, convincingly communicated by Altynai Asylmuratoya and Irek Mukhamedov, as they declare their love for one another.

Later, the Rajah offers Solor the hand of his daughter, Gamzatti, and Solor bewitched by her beauty accepts. In the Palace garden, Nikiya has been invited to entertain the guests with her dancing. She is given a basket of flowers supposedly from Solor, but they are from the Rajah and contain a poisonous snake. She is bitten and dies, having refused a bottle of antidote from the Rajah. During this scene there are some elegant and energetic dances: the Pas de Deux variations are superbly danced.

Under the influence of Opium, Solor's despair is weakened and in trancelike vision sees Nikiya before him. TV superimposition gives heightened visual effects. He then hastens to the temple for his wedding. Under a large Buddha a bronzed dancing idol opens the scene using symbolic attitudes, mimicking the idols of old. As the wedding ceremony progresses the irate gods destroy the temple. Stroboscopic effects of tumbling masonry of the collapsing temple are most effective, whether or not achieved with some post-production license. Everyone is killed and so the souls of Solor and Nikiya are united, signified by a veil 'of eternal love' which rises up out of a floor of mist.

To help the viewer identify with the characters, the opening titles give separate pages to each artiste, their role and backdrop of their appearance. The booklet in English, French and German carries a synopsis and detailed track-listing, but no note on the composer.

There are good audio-only CD recordings by the ECO under Bonynge on Decca 436 917-2DH2, and by Paris Opera Ballet on Teldec 4509-96851-3. There’s also a competing DVD on Teldec 4509-96851-2.

I am so pleased that TDK have not reprocessed this DVD for wide-screen television: so much BBC/ITV archive film has been unsuccessfully doctored to suit the new format. What they forget is that by clipping the top and bottom of the picture the composition is totally distorted. Here the camera operators have worked hard to give ideal composition in the classic academy framing of their shots.

Raymond J Walker


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