Some of my most pleasurable evenings with ballet DVDs in recent
months have involved productions from La Scala, Milan. The thrilling
pairing of Svetlana Zhakarova and Roberto Bolle may be seen
in Swan Lake (from 2004), Giselle (2005) (see
here) and La Bayadère (2006). Bolle and others
feature in a hugely enjoyable - if rather self-indulgent - Tchaikovsky
Gala recorded on New Year’s Eve 2007. Most recently,
La Scala's lavishly authentic 2011 recreation of Glazunov's
Raymonda was a fabulous treat and was deservedly acclaimed
as a MusicWeb International Recording of the Month (see
This new release features another Milan production from the
past decade - a 2003 staging of choreographer Roland Petit's
two-act take on Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus.
Petit is perhaps best known for his stylistic eclecticism and
for the sensuality and eroticism to be found in much of his
work. Booklet notes writer Horst Koegler puts it well: “The
palette of his balletic vocabulary is ... broad, never denying
its rocksolid roots in the classical-academic techniques of
the danse d'école but regularly borrowing from
the ballroom, revue, sport, the circus and variétés,
cinema and whatever's latest on the pop scene. And always the
scent of a very French sex appeal ...”
Petit seems too to have enjoyed exploring relatively dark themes:
the story of possibly his best-known workLe
Jeune Homme et La Mort (1946) concerns a young man who takes
his own life rather than live with his lover’s betrayal.
Perhaps it is not without significance that Petit’s formative
years as a choreographer coincided with the post-war cinematic
vogue for the cynical and downbeat world of film noir.
But Petit also exhibited what his friend Irene Lydova identified
as a “Champagne style” (see
here) and La Chauve-souris, originally choreographed
in 1979, is a vintage example.
Although the ballet's title translates into English as “The
Bat” and the music is Johann Strauss II’s, this
is not simply a danced version of Die Fledermaus. Neither
is it some sort of expanded version of that opera’s sometimes-omitted
Act 2 ballet sequence.
There are, it is true, some basic elements of the same story
here: the wife and her cheating husband, her loyal old suitor,
a big set-piece party and a prison scene. Hoiwever, the location
has been changed from Vienna to Paris and the time of the action
advanced by twenty years or so, while other significant alterations
simplify the tale and make the action somewhat easier to follow.
An essentially frivolous tone is set from an opening scene set
in Bella and Johann's dysfunctional household where the husband
prefers to flirt with the maid rather than pay attention to
his wife; meanwhile the children run riot. After an amusing
episode at the family dining-table, Johann unexpectedly transforms
himself into a bat and flies off for an evening at Maxim's restaurant.
His distraught spouse is persuaded by her admirer Ulrich to
follow him in glamorous disguise in order to test whether her
husband will succumb to extra-marital temptation.
As might only be feared, Johann is smitten by the mysterious,
seductive “stranger” encountered at Maxim's and
is only prevented from having his wicked way with her by the
arrival of the police who take him into custody. Eventually
rescued from prison by his wife, however, he is brought to realise
that a life of dull domesticity is probably to be preferred
and decides to renounce his days as the philandering bat.
The simple storyline resolutely chooses to ignore any serious
moral issues. Indeed, its only even remotely “dark”
aspects are the distinctly Freudian moments when Johann adopts
his bat alter-ego and when Bella brandishes a pair of scissors,
with the distinctly implied threat of emasculating her husband
to prevent any further lapses on his part.
Otherwise this is an overtly jolly romp, full of comic dancing
waiters and can-can girls, well cast and characterfully executed
by all concerned. Alessandra Ferri (Bella) and Massimo Murru
(Johann) dance expertly and command the stage. Their comic moments
- of which there are many - are enhanced by the contribution
of Luigi Bonino (Ulrich) who is made up to emphasise his Charlie
Chaplin-like persona. It's all been designed - and is here performed
- as an obvious, if perhaps rather inconsequential and superficial,
crowd-pleaser. On that level La Chauve-souris is a triumphant
It’s also lots and lots of fun, but not, in all honesty,
up there on the level of Petit’s most striking and memorable
works such as Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, Carmen
(1949) or Turangalîla (1968).
Minor Petit, then: Petit-lite.
Or, as the French would probably not put it, Petit-petit.