Cervantes’s picaresque novel has inspired many composers to set
at least some of its episodes to music. In Britain alone they
range over three centuries from Henry Purcell (The Comical
History of Don Quixote, 1694) to Ronald Stevenson (Don
Quixote and Sancho Panza: a bagatelle cycle, 1982-1983).
the mid-19th century, the comic possibilities of
one particular storyline – two young lovers’ attempts to sabotage
the girl’s father’s plan to marry her off to a wealthy buffoon
– had already provided inspiration for operas by Telemann
(Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho, 1761)
and Mendelssohn (Die Hochzeit des Camacho, 1827, a
great musical rarity that was well received in London last
year when presented by University College Opera).
that same episode remained the focus when, in 1867, choreographer
Marius Petipa, planning a new ballet for the Bolshoi company,
commissioned Léon Minkus to compose a suitable score.
that premise, the resulting work rather relegates the eponymous
Don and his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza to the sidelines
and, although a brief prologue establishes their essential
characters, they appear thereafter largely as ineffective
– or even passive - spectators of the lovers’ romantic shenanigans
(the major exception being the inclusion of an obligatory
“tilting at windmills” scene for Quixote).
central focus lies very much instead on the young lovers Kitri
and Basil, both roles offering frequent opportunities for
displays of balletic virtuosity set to Minkus’s intensely
rhythmic and colourful score. Unlike Petipa’s better known
ballet scored by the same composer, La Bayadère (1877),
this is no tragic story of passion and thwarted love:
it is, from the outset, inconceivable that Kitri and Basil’s
optimistic determination to be together will fail to triumph,
by hook or by crook, over the puffed-up boobies who oppose
role of Kitri was a signature one for Nina Ananiashvili and
she plays it with immense élan for all it is worth. The fact
that she has passably “Spanish” looks is a great help as she
communicates the unadulterated joy of a young girl in love.
It is, moreover, a delight to see, from her facial expressions
during the frequent pauses for audience applause, that she
is – entirely justifiably – very pleased with herself and
her technique. In her Act II personification as Don Quixote’s
fantasy Dulcinea, Ananiashvili demonstrates equal mastery
of an alternative characterisation that requires restraint,
poise and elegance rather than Kitri’s vivacity and high spirits.
is clearly very much at one with her regular partner Alexei
Fadeyechev and, while his on stage personality is rather less
striking, he never gives less – and sometimes gives far more
– than a worthwhile performance. I challenge anyone to watch
the final five minutes of the last Act, where the pair of
them attempt outrageously to out-dance each other, without
emerging with the broadest of grins.
the rest of the cast, only Andrei Zhuravlyov and Elena Kulagina,
as the (entirely superfluous to the plot) matador and his
dancing girl, have the opportunities for extensive – and flashy
– solo work that allow them to make a comparably strong impression.
Even so, this is clearly a well-drilled and very skilled company
that is putting its collective heart into the very enjoyable
score. Often typical of Minkus in his rum-ti-tum mode, it
will certainly appeal to anyone who enjoys Rimsky-Korsakov’s
Spanish Caprice or Glinka’s Spanish Overtures.
Tokyo-based Shinsei Nihon Symphony Orchestra plays very competently,
even though one imagines that they may not have been as well
versed in the score as the Tchaikovsky Perm State Ballet’s
own orchestra (which, I imagine, given Russia’s economic difficulties
in the early 1990s, was probably left at home). Alexander
Sotnikov conducts, as one might expect, an entirely idiomatic
is nothing particularly special about this production’s sets
but the costumes are attractive in a flashily clichéd Spanish
way and give added emphasis to the more energetic dancing.
The film’s Japanese director may not, though, have not been
too familiar with the work or else may not have been given
sufficient rehearsal time, for his camera angles can sometimes
be a little odd and, as a consequence, we viewers occasionally
miss a significant piece of stage business.
presentation lets the enterprise down a little, too. The DVD
itself would have been far easier to navigate had it had more
tracks, while the single insert page of printed information
offers no guidance at all to anyone who comes new to the story
or, indeed, to this particular production with its several
overall this is a most enjoyable performance that captures on
film a charismatic artist at the height of her powers.