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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
The Prince of the Pagodas (1957)
Darcey Bussell (Princess Rose); Fiona Chadwick (Princess Epine); Jonathan Cope (The Prince); Anthony Dowell (The Emperor); Simon Ride (The Fool); Antony Dowson (King of the North); Bruce Sansom (King of the East); Mark Silver (King of the West); Ashley Page (King of the South)
rec. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1990
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Ashley Lawrence
Video Director: Derek Bailey
Also includes Out of Line, a documentary portrait of Kenneth MacMillan [64:00]
NTSC 4:3 Colour Region Code 2-5. Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
NVC ARTS 9031-93826-2 [194:00]

 

This is spectacular. The Prince of the Pagodas is one of Britten’s finest scores. It is difficult to believe that this is his only full-length ballet, so confident is the writing, so masterful the pacing. Perhaps the performance contributes, for the dedicated playing from the ROH orchestra is truly outstanding. Try the entrance of the suitors to almost impossibly delicate writing in the strings.

It is difficult to imagine a more appealing fairytale than this … and yes, there’s a lovely happy ending. The star of the show is the Princess Rose, danced faultlessly by Darcey Bussell. Her problems include a jealous half-sister (Princess Epine) who, because she is accorded less of the Kingdom than Rose, makes much mischief.  A salamander-Prince provides the key, his transformation mirroring the transformation of the State and all around.

It is difficult to take one’s eyes of Bussell’s movements, so graceful are they. She has an elegance that seems to reflect Britten’s score. The applause at the end of the Act 3 Scene 2 duet between Rose and her Prince is thoroughly deserved. In fact tenderness underpins the entire production.

The production is by Sir Kenneth MacMillan and is simply glorious. ‘Enchanting’ hardly covers it, for this is a true fairy-tale – we are left to make our own minds up about any sub-contexts. Within this setting, attention can be truly focused on the dancers. The Emperor (Anthony Dowell) is particularly characterful. Fiona Chadwick is eminently believable as the ‘bad’ half-sister, Princess Epine.

Britten provides a magical score. CD collectors may have the Chandos disc of the excerpts (extracted by Donald Mitchell and Mervyn Cooke) conducted by Leonard Slatkin (CHAN10111); or maybe, indeed, Knussen’s recording of the complete score on Virgin. But really the only way to do it is to see it.

The documentary - longer than I expected! - is actually a fascinating biog of MacMillan.

Superb.

Colin Clarke

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