At every stage of his career Prokofiev maintained a strong interest
in composing for the ballet, and his ballet scores chart the evolution
of his musical style just as surely as do his concert works. The
full-length ballet Cinderella was commissioned in 1940
by the Kirov Ballet, directly as a result of the huge success
they had recently enjoyed with his Romeo and Juliet.
the summer of 1943 Prokofiev was sent to Perm,
where he joined his fellow composer Aram Khachaturyan and where
also the Kirov Ballet had relocated. Not surprisingly, the result
was the completion of the new Cinderella ballet. Prokofiev,
following the great Russian tradition of theatrical pieces inspired
by magical fairy-tales, of which Tchaikovsky’s ballets, Stravinsky's
Firebird and Rimsky-Korsakov's operas are examples, openly
admitted that he wanted to emphasise 'the fairy-tale nature
of the subject'.
an extended preface to the score, Prokofiev explained: 'What
I wished to express above all in the music of the ballet was
the poetic love of Cinderella and the Prince, the birth and
flowering of that love, the obstacles in its path and finally
the dream fulfilled. The story offered a number of fascinating
problems - the atmosphere of magic surrounding the fairy godmother,
the twelve fantastic dwarves that pop out of the clock as it
strikes twelve reminding Cinderella that she must return home;
the swift changes of scene as the Prince journeys far and wide
in search of Cinderella; the poetry of nature personified by
the four fairies representing the four seasons of the year.'
colourful and lively modern version of the ballet is brilliantly
done by the Ballets de Monte Carlo, and imaginatively choreographed
by their artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot. In the accompanying
documentary their preparations and rehearsals are explored,
in a fascinating insight into how artists develop such a project.
Being a film, the focus is indulgently centred upon the dancers
and their movements as an ensemble, with camera angles that
create images that are well removed from what an audience in
the theatre could see. And why not? The troupe is led by Aurelia
Schaefer as a most sensitive Cinderella and by Bernice Coppieters
as the fairy. The latter was the company’s principal dancer
when the film was made, and she is the subject of a half-hour
long documentary on the bonus disc. While all this is interesting
in its own right, what the bonus lacks is any information about
Prokofiev and the creation and history of the ballet, which
seems a pity.
omission leads us to the heart of the matter. The production
standards and presentation are what are to be expected of Deutsche
Grammophon, but the fact that this is an interpretation danced
to an existing recorded soundtrack is not made at all clear.
On the cover we are told this is the performance of Les Ballets
de Monte Carlo ‘under the presidency of H.R.H. the Princess
of Hanover’ (which is nice to know), but only in the small print
at the back of the booklet is there a credit for the Cleveland
Orchestra and Vladimir Ashkenazy, who rate a mention immediately
beneath the names of the wigmaker, the hairdresser and the make-up
artists. Surely this cannot be right, since the musical performers
deserve a billing equal to that of the dancers.
identified three different aspects of the drama through his
music: Cinderella, abused and ill-treated; Cinderella, chaste,
pure and pensive; and Cinderella in love, radiant with happiness.
In order to achieve these contrasts, the characters are brilliantly
and colourfully drawn, and the choreography skilfully draws
upon this. Cinderella herself is always depicted as sensitive
and sympathetic, of course. The music and dancing of the others,
such as her timid father, her ill-tempered step-mother, her
selfish (ugly) sisters, the passionate young Prince, is designed
in such a way as to balance and extend the experience from the
reference point provided by her central role.
plays free and loose with Prokofiev’s score, which presumably
was easy with no musicians around to complain. Thus the sequence
entitled ‘Cinderella awakes’ is the first to be featured, suggesting
the dream out of which the whole story emerges. Only then is
Prokofiev’s Introduction played. Various other numbers are cut,
and in the Third Act the Romance from Lieutenant Kijé
is added, but we are not told whether this too was performed
by the Cleveland Orchestra and Ashkenazy.
1943 Prokofiev was of course very experienced as a composer
of ballet music, and he was anxious 'to make the new work as
'danceable' as possible, with a variety of dances that would
weave themselves into the pattern of the story, and give the
dancers ample opportunity to display their art'. He continued,
' I wrote Cinderella in the traditions of the old classical
ballet; it has pas de deux, adagios, gavottes, several waltzes,
a pavane, passepied, bourrée, mazurka and galop. Each character,
moreover, has his or her own variation. Although the tale of
Cinderella is found among many peoples, I wanted above all to
turn it into a genuine Russian fairy-story'. That it remains
in this version, which does have a compelling sweep. But if
you want to see a colourful performance of the ballet that is
more truthful to the work, go to Frederick Ashton’s famous version
with the Royal Ballet.