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DVD: Crotchet


Ferdinand HÉROLD (1791-1833)
La fille mal gardée – ballet in two acts (1828) [106:38]
Music freely adapted and arranged by John Lanchbery
Choreography by Frederick Ashton
Carlos Acosta - Colas
Marianela Nuñez - Lise
William Tuckett - Simone
Jonathan Howells - Alain
David Drew - Thomas
Giacomo Ciriaci - Cockerel
Alastair Marriott - Notary
Gemma Bond, Bethany Keating, Iohna Loots, Natasha Oughtred - Hens
Christina Arestis, Deidre Chapman, Lauren Cuthbertson, Cindy Jourdain, Sarah Lamb, Laura Morena, Vanessa Palmer, Christina Elida Salerno - Lise’s friends
Artists of the Royal Ballet and students of the Royal Ballet Upper School - Villagers, harvesters and grooms
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Anthony Twiner
Directed by Ross McGibbon
rec. live performance, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 2 February 2005
OPUS ARTE OA0992D [112:00]
Experience Classicsonline

Choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton was born in September 1904, so it was always likely that the Royal Ballet – of which he was Director for most of the 1960s – would take the opportunity to celebrate his centenary with revivals of some of his best works.
My colleague Ian Lace has already given a very warm welcome to Opus Arte’s DVD of the 2005 revival of Ashton’s 1952 production of Delibes’s Sylvia (see review). Now this new release, from the same television/DVD producers, is likely to offer just as much – if not more – pleasure to admirers of both the choreographer and several of the Royal Ballet’s most accomplished artistes.
The origins of the score are somewhat obscure. The earliest music – dating from 1789 - was cobbled together by an unknown hand from a variety of popular melodies. But by 1828 it was considered sufficiently dated for Ferdinand Hérold to be commissioned to rearrange and supplement it, using not just his own material but also unauthorized extracts from pieces by Donizetti, Rossini and others.
Hérold’s score held the field for less than 40 years, though, before it in turn was considered so old-fashioned that it was superseded by one penned by Peter Ludwig Hertel. Thus, from the 1860s onwards, it was Hertel’s music – at various times added to substantially by Drigo, Pugni, Minkus and Delibes, not to mention Anton Rubinstein and a certain Johann Armsheimer – that was associated with the La fille mal gardée story.
Had Ashton had a grander conception for his planned 1960 Covent Garden production, he might well have used the by now traditional Hertel score. But instead he envisaged a simple, pastoral, light-hearted and pastel-shaded interpretation of the old story – Watteau rather than Winterhalter. Thus, having retrieved Hérold’s long-neglected music from the archives, he asked John Lanchbery to edit and re-orchestrate it. [Ironically enough, a single bit of Hertel did eventually find its way into the new version and, as the theme of the famous clog dance, can be heard in one of the ballet’s best loved episodes!]
La fille mal gardée – yet another story of young lovers thwarting an ambitious parent’s plan to marry off one of them to a far wealthier suitor - is now considered the quintessential Ashton ballet and is certainly the best loved. The choreography’s apparent - but not actual! - simplicity and its sheer joie de vivre work in perfect harmony with the undemanding light-hearted story and the tuneful 1828 score to ensure that audiences invariably leave the theatre with faces wreathed in smiles. That would certainly have been so as patrons left the Royal Opera House on 2 February 2005 – and thankfully the BBC’s cameras were there to record the occasion.
While not having any great emotional depths to plumb in their roles, attractive and charismatic soloists Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta are utterly convincing as youthful lovers. She is an exceptionally pretty girl, whereas he is the epitome of a virile and handsome young swain. Moreover, unlike many ballet productions, this is one case where the protagonists look genuinely and appropriately young. In fact, Nuñez was, at the time, just 23 and the Royal Ballet’s youngest Principal – though mere youth was clearly no handicap as she received, that same year, the Best Female Dancer accolade in the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards. Acosta, though actually nine years older, makes an ideal visual match – as his many admirers will certainly testify.
The pair are also very well matched as dancers and offer well-nigh perfect interpretations and performances. Ashton’s choreography may not offer too much in the way of flashy opportunities to bring down the house, but it is sufficiently taxing to require the dancers to demonstrate complete concentration and immaculate technique. Both are in clear evidence here.
As Widow Simone, the domineering mother determined to engineer an advantageous – if loveless – marriage for her daughter, William Tuckett plays the role for laughs. In full pantomime dame mode and equipped with a range of wonderfully exaggerated facial expressions, he certainly succeeds. He can, though, dance too – although I would have liked to have heard the clack-clack of his clogs more clearly over the orchestra, so as to emphasize his skillful footwork in the famous highlight solo.
Jonathan Howells’s interpretation of Alain, Widow Simone’s preferred rich-but-dim suitor for her daughter, is again strong on comedy but he also conveys an air of pathos that adds considerably to the role and was clearly appreciated by the Covent Garden audience.
The production keeps the corps de ballet especially busy portraying various types of cheerful, good natured country folk. These are remarkably sophisticated rustics, however – at least when it comes to their ability to interpret Ashton’s intricate, fluid patterns on stage. The maypole dance preceding the storm that brings the first act to a close - itself a striking coup de théâtre - offers an excellent example of the company’s strength in full ensemble, as does the exuberant finale to the whole ballet.
Meanwhile, conductor Anthony Twiner directs an appropriately jaunty and light-hearted account of the score and the Covent Garden orchestra responds with aplomb throughout.
The set is from designs by Osbert Lancaster who was, at that time well-known as a professional cartoonist for the Daily Express. Its simple, cartoon-like qualities and the exaggeratedly clichéd French peasant costumes also fit the mood of this delightful production perfectly and add measurably to its already considerable charm and appeal.
Rob Maynard


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