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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Romantic ballet in two acts (1843)
Titania - Alessandra Ferri
Oberon - Roberto Bolle
Puck - Riccardo Massimi
Hermia - Deborah Gismondi
Helena - Gilda Gelati
Demetrius - Vittorio D’Amato
Lysander - Gianni Ghisleni
Bottom - Camillo Di Pompo
Corp de ballet of Teatro alla Scala
Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala/Nir Kabaretti
rec. La Scala, Milan, February 2007
16:9 format; NTSC; Sound DD5.1/DTS5.1/LPCM; stereo; Region: 0

A Midsummer’s Night Dream, is known for its elegant overture (1826). It is less well known for its incidental music, written much later (in 1843) to accompany a German adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. Mendelssohn never composed a full-length ballet, which here runs to 104 minutes. However, in 1961, George Balanchine, a Russian ballet-dancer from Georgia - who once played Puck in The Dream - realized his own dream by choreographing a full-length production. He added music from other Mendelssohnian works: Athalie, Fair Melusina, Returning home from Abroad, First Walpurgis Night and his Sinfonia for Strings. Balanchine was one of the 20th century's foremost choreographers who was successful in making a transition between classical and modern ballet. In this production the genre is classical and, unusually for a ballet, includes the two vocal numbers.
This fine production, staged by Patricia Neary and Sara Leland, has visual identity carefully wedded to movement, to provide an apt and complete interpretation of the story. Balantine’s choreography, whose detail has been handed down over the fifty years since its inception, is impressive and probably has not been bettered. One of the highlights is the imaginative choreography and cutting used for the overture; the storyline of which is easy to follow.
The quality of the Italian lead dancers is excellent. A sturdy Oberon and enigmatic and radiant Titania are well matched and received a strong ovation at the close. The ballet’s continuity and interest is often provided by the mischievous and vivacious Puck, whose miming actions are very clear. The mix up in giving the potion to the wrong couples is nicely staged. Rustic backdrops and appropriately realistic costumes by Luisa Spinatelli add to the charm of the piece and blend in ideally with the caviar of Mendelssohn’s music. The fairies have enough flexibility in their wings to make them appear naturally animated as they dance. A lack of on-stage property features does not help the two-dimensional backcloths. Area-prominent lighting helps to provide variety in the scene that gives an extra dimension in visual interest. An opportunity to add gobo effects with splashes of saturated greens and ambers has been missed. Bottom’s comedy scene provides good contrast and amusement but is disappointingly short.
The notes do not help in identifying where the additional music has been employed, which, it must be said, is ideally fitting for the presentation. Neither do they offer the reader a full synopsis. Act I contains the whole Shakespearian story apart from the wedding, which is held back for the opening of Act II. Perhaps I expected a more impactful picture for such a large half-empty stage. The rest of the second Part is filled by a series of divertissements. After the Finale, good contrast is provided when we revisit the woodscape setting of the opening with a joyful scene with Oberon, Titania and Puck amid a troupe of young pixies and elves. It is not clear how young the troupe of children really is until they take their finale bow.
The quality of musicianship and audio recording puts this DVD in a class above the earlier Opus Arte production. The score is in safe hands with Nir Kabaretti and pace and nuance of control are well displayed by this Israeli-born conductor. With a growing reputation but little experience in working with ballet scores apart from The Nutcracker, the result is outstanding. Kabaretti studied in Vienna and gained experience as chorus-master at the Salzburg Festival, before working under Zubin Mehta at Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. In connection with ballet, Kabaretti made his début with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker at Teatro alla Scala di Milano (2004), where he also conducted this televised ballet production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Raymond J Walker


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