John Cranko: The Lady and the Fool
/ Pineapple Poll
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
The Lady and the Fool (arr. Charles Mackerras) (1954) [44:58]
Svetlana Beriosova, Ray Powell, Ronald Hynd,
Royal Opera House Orchestra/Charles Mackerras
Choreographed by John Cranko (1927-1973)
Studio recording, transmitted 3 May 1959
Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Pineapple Poll (arr. Charles Mackerras) (1951) [43:53]
Merle Park, David Blair, Stanley Holden, Brenda Taylor, Gerd Larsen,
cast of the Royal Ballet
London Symphony Orchestra/Charles Mackerras
Choreographed by John Cranko (1927-1973)
Studio recording, transmitted 1 November 1959
Picture format NTSC 4:3 Region Code 0
Menu language English: subtitle languages: Deutsch, Français.
Notes in Deutsch, English and Français
ICA CLASSICS ICAD5040
I do not believe that it is the role of the critic to ‘spoil
the plot’ of a ballet or an opera whilst writing a review.
Even with a work like Madame Butterfly or Sleeping
Beauty it would be presumptuous of a writer to assume that
all their readers knew the libretto or the ‘book’.
However, a few brief observations are probably in order. For
example is it a comedy or a tragedy? Does it tell a story or
present a series of tableaux? These are questions worth answering.
But to give a complete synopsis in the manner of Kobbé’s
Opera or Balanchine’s Festival of Ballet
is both redundant and unfair. I will confine my remarks to generalisations
and concentrate more on the presentation of the story and music
rather than the story itself.
The two ballets presented here are contrasting tales. One, Pineapple
Poll, is a gay, light-hearted romp whilst the other, The
Lady and the Fool is bittersweet: both are technically comedies.
It is useful to give a brief thumbnail sketch of the life and
career of John Cranko. He was born in Rustenburg in the Transvaal
in 1927. From an early age he was interested in dance and movement,
developing puppet shows for his friends. His first stage appearance
as a dancer was in 1943 in a performance given by the Cape Town
University Ballet. After some early ballet training under Dulcie
Howes, he produced his first ballet, The Soldier’s
Tale. In 1946 he moved to London and worked as a dancer
and then as a choreographer with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Ballet, which was the forerunner of The Royal Ballet.
Cranko is best known for his collaboration with Charles Mackerras
in Pineapple Poll although other triumphs included The
Prince of the Pagodas to music by Britten and Harlequin
in April with a score by Richard Arnell. Other ballets that
he choreographed included Onegin based on music from
Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons and Prokofiev’s
Romeo & Juliet. However, his activities were not
confined to the ballet. He devised a West End revue called Cranks
which opened in 1955 and ran for over 200 performances. He died
in 1973 after a reaction to a sleeping pill taken during a transatlantic
The title The Lady and the Fool along with the intelligence
that this is a ‘comedy’ probably gives the game
away as to the story line. This work was premiered by the Sadler’s
Wells Theatre Ballet at the New Theatre in Oxford on 25 February
1954. However, the original choreography did not satisfy Cranko:
the ballet was reworked for Covent Garden and was first given
there on 9 June 1955. This is the version presented on this
The score that Charles Mackerras devised is based on music from
a number of lesser-known operatic works by Giuseppe Verdi. These
include Alzira, Jerusalem, I Lombardi and
Attila. I confess to never having heard of these operas!
There is a tremendous danger that this ballet can sink into
sheer sentimentality and any interpretation must try to avoid
this. Certainly, there is a degree of melodrama in the present
realisation, however it does not become overpowering. The tension
between the sympathy the audience will feel towards the poverty-stricken
clowns Moondog and Bootface who are asleep on a street bench
and the antipathy towards the dashing, narcissistic Capitano
Adoncino is the basis of any appreciation of this ballet. Any
tendency for the ballet to become morbid is offset by the magnificent
ballroom scenes where the heroine La Capricciosa dances with
her suitors who represent wealth, gallantry and rank. The ‘pas
de deux’ between Moondog and La Capricciosa is the highlight
of the ballet and is both moving and beautiful.
The three principals are superb: Svetlana Beriosova as La Capricciosa,
Ronald Hynd as Moondog and Ray Powell as Bootface. All the dancers
execute their routines with grace, expressiveness, ease and
fluency. However the viewer will be moved by Ray Powell’s
presentation of Bootface, the clown who does not win the lady’s
Pineapple Poll is a ballet in three scenes or tableaux
- all set in Portsmouth. The story derives from ‘The Bumboat
Woman’s Story’ which is from one of W.S. Gilbert’s
lesser-known works the Bab Ballads. A ‘bumboat’
by the way is a small vessel that is used to ferry stores between
the dock and ships at anchor. The score is a glorious collation
of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music devised once again by Mackerras.
The tunes are taken from virtually the entire catalogue of G&S
comic operas but also include Cox and Box and the Overture
di Ballo. As a score, this work quite simply sparkles like
freshly popped champagne. Moreover, Mackerras has presented
Sullivan’s great music in a form rarely heard - for full
orchestra rather than a theatre ensemble.
Unlike The Lady and the Fool the title Pineapple Poll
gives nothing away about the story. However, it does seem to
imply comedy. In fact, this is a comic masterpiece. Any viewer
will be impressed with the vivacious dancing and the ‘built
in’ humour which pervades the work. The three principal
characters are Pineapple Poll, a flower seller, Jasper, a ‘pot
boy’ from the local inn and Captain Belaye of the H.M.S.
Hot Cross Bun. Other dancers include the captain’s fiancée
Blanche and Mrs Dimple, her aunt.
Merle Park is quite simply stunning as Pineapple. However David
Blair makes an excellent captain, a role which he created. Stanley
Holden playing Jasper raises the audience’s sympathy.
Two highlights of Pineapple Poll are the captain’s
solo dance based on the hornpipe and the general riot on the
deck of the Hot Cross Bun when the scratch crew of women are
discovered. Pineapple Poll was first seen at the Sadler’s
Wells Theatre on 13 March 1951.
What criticisms of this DVD can I make? Virtually none. However,
a silly bit of wishful thinking: would that it had been in colour!
The costumes look as if they would have been absolutely magnificent.
Secondly, the studio-based performance means that there is a
distinct lack of the atmosphere that an audience would have
provided. Thirdly, these performances were created for television
over half a century ago with all the limitations that this implies.
However, it would be totally wrong to use present day canons
of set design and lighting to judge their success or failure.
For their time and technical limitations they are definitive.
It is wonderful to have these two masterpieces of balletomania
easily available. At present this is the only version of either
work on DVD. It may be for a ballet company in the future to
revive one or both of these ballets but at present this is a
splendid addition to the catalogues. It is not to be missed
by ballet enthusiasts, G&S cognoscenti and lovers of obscure
but delightful Verdi!