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
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.