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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
DVD1: Cinderella (1943) [97:12] Les Ballets de Monte Carlo
Choreography by Jean-Christophe Maillot
Bernice Coppieters, Chris Roelandt, Aurelia Schaefer, Francesco Nappa, Gioia Masala, Agalie Vandamme, Francesca Dolci (dancers)
Soundtrack (from Decca 430 162-2): Cleveland Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
rec. Salle Garnier Monte Carlo, April 1999 (choreographed ballet), Masonic Auditorium, Cleveland, March 1983 (soundtrack)
DVD2: Documentary
Portrait of Bernice Coppieters, plus rehearsal sequences: 'The making of the ballet' [73:18]
Ratio 16:9 (ballet); 4:3 (documentary).
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Sound formats: PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1.
Menu language: English
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0734410 [2DVDs: 111:53 + 73:18]

 

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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.
 

In 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'. 

In 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.' 

This 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. 

This 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. 

Prokofiev 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. 

Maillot 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. 

By 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.

Terry Barfoot 

 


 


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