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Sarah Beth Briggs
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Romantic ballet in two
Titania - Alessandra
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:
TDK DVWW-BLMID [104:00]
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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