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Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
Giselle - Ballet in two acts (1841) [105:00]
Alessandra Ferri - Giselle
Massimo Murru - Albrecht
Maurizio Vanadia - Hilarion
Isabel Seabra - Myrtha
Marinella Carimati - Giselle’s mother
Bryan Hewison - Wilfried
Mairizia Luceri - Bathilde
Matteo Buongiorno - Duke of Courland
Beatrice Carbone and Roberto Bolle - Two peasants
Silvia Scrivano and Gilda Gelati - Leading wilis
Patrizia Milani, Laura Caccialanza, Silvia Scrivano, Sophie Sarrote, Aglaia Lovetti, Emanuela Montanari - Giselle’s friends
Corps de ballet of the Teatro alla Scala
Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala/Paul Connelly
Choreography by Patrice Bart, after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot
Set and costume design by Alexandre Benois, recreated by Angelo Sala
Directed for TV and video by Alexandre Tarta
rec. Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 1996
Sound formats: PCM stereo, DD 5.1
Picture format: 16:9, NTSC
Region code: 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 061 [116:00]

It was only a year ago that I encouraged MusicWeb International’s readers to give three cheers for Arthaus Musik as it released two separate – and both very worthwhile – DVD performances of Giselle. They were a 2005 recording from La Scala, Milan, and another from the Opéra national de Paris that dated from 2006 (see here).
 
Perhaps, then, four cheers are now in order as Arthaus offers us a third version of Adam’s much-loved masterpiece, also originating from La Scala but coincidentally sharing its conductor with the Paris DVD. The performance dates from 1996, making it nine years older than the other Milan performance and ten years older than the French staging. As we all know, video recording technology has made immense strides in the past couple of decades, not least with the introduction of Blu-ray technology and High Definition Television (HDTV). I was very pleased to find, nevertheless, that the quality of both the visual image and the sound on this older recording was more than acceptable.
 
This production’s biggest asset is undoubtedly Alessandra Ferri. After beginning her career in London and then moving to New York, she had switched her main focus to Milan in 1992, achieving the exalted and very rare status of prima ballerina assoluta. In this performance she grabs with both her elegant hands the full opportunities offered by the role.
 
The eponymous heroine of Giselle is put through the emotional wringer far more thoroughly than most ballet heroines. Swanilde (Coppélia), Kitri (Don Quixote) and Lise (La fille mal gardée) carry on smiling resolutely through their – admittedly rather lesser – romantic tribulations. Meanwhile, in Tchaikovsky’s scores, Odette (Swan Lake), Aurora (The Sleeping Beauty) and Clara (The Nutcracker) seem comparatively emotionally unaffected - apart, perhaps, from dropping the odd feather or two – by the various brickbats that life throws at them. Poor Giselle, on the other hand, not only suffers from a weak constitution but is the victim of a two-faced seducer who drives her to utter despair and madness before she meets her merciful end.
 
Given that we can take the quality of her dancing as a given, what is so impressive about Ms. Ferri in this performance is her utterly moving portrayal of the central role. She excels not just in the “losing her mind” sequence that concludes the first Act and where some ballerinas virtually chew the scenery in their overacting, but also earlier on where the subtlety of her expressions and gestures establishes, within just a few seconds, her character’s shyness, innocence and essential naïveté. That is very effectively achieved in the sequence where Albrecht courts her on the bench and where she plucks petals (“He loves me … He loves me not …”), but look too at the brief moment when she admires Bathilde’s clothes for an instance of finely judged characterisation.
 
While Massimo Murru, as Albrecht, partners Ms. Ferri very well, he lacks her on-stage charisma. I did, though, particularly enjoy his reaction to Giselle’s death, as he convincingly portrays a mixture of grief, violent anger and well-earned guilt that creates a genuinely thrilling air of drama and excitement before the curtain falls. Maurizio Vanadia is an effective and attractive Hilarion, to the extent that one actually feels on occasion that he might be - and certainly ought to be - in with a chance of getting the girl. Marinella Carimati also makes a stronger than usual impact as Giselle’s mother, in part because this production, in contrast to many, retains the elaborate mime sequence (18:05-19:06) where she warns her daughter of the wilis in the woods. The effective and completely assured Isabel Seabra, though clearly quite some way from the embodiment of a constitutional monarch, makes a suitably imperious, cruel Queen Myrthe.
 
I must also mention the two peasants whose artistry in their Act 1 pas de deux gives such delight to the Milan audience. That, though, is hardly a surprise, given that one of them is no less than today’s ballet superstar Roberto Bolle when he was aged just 21. Even at that early stage of his career, he gives the impression of owning the stage and he certainly looks far more of a born aristocrat than does Murru’s Albrecht. It cannot have been a great surprise when, in the very year of this performance, Bolle was promoted to principal dancer with the company, soon thereafter to leave the ranks of the horny-handed village peasantry for ever and to make the leading role of Albrecht his own, as he does, in fact, on the 2005 DVD.
 
The La Scala corps de ballet is on fine form here, whether as rollicking – if rather too well dressed – peasants in the first Act or, in the case of the women, as Act 2’s ghostly spirits. They add immensely to our enjoyment. The orchestra also gives a good account of itself under Paul Connelly’s direction, though the poor man may feel justifiably miffed that his surname has been consistently misspelled with just a single “n” on the DVD packaging and in parts of the enclosed – and otherwise useful - booklet.
 
I liked, too, Angelo Sala’s recreation of Alexandre Benois’s sets and thought Maurizio Montobbio’s lighting especially effective in both Acts, lending an attractive degree of autumnal shadow and contrast to the Act 1 village while maintaining the air of supernatural mystery in Act 2.
 
The presentation for TV and video is also well executed. Unlike some other directors, Alexandre Tarta has clearly worked out where his cameras ought to be placed, what they should be filming and when to switch them from one to another. As a result, we see several interesting and useful bits of stage business that a less well prepared director might not have been ready for. To mention just a couple of examples, at 9:49 a finely positioned shot catches Hilarion’s brief appearance at the rear of the stage as Albrecht courts Giselle; and at 34:00 as Silvia Scivano dances to the side of the stage we catch a glimpse of her partner Roberto Bolle as he smiles encouragingly at her. The only glitch that might have been avoided occurs very near the end: Giselle’s return into the grave is a well executed bit of stage business and is well filmed, but the subsequent medium-shot of Albrecht is held slightly too long so that we actually see the trapdoor, through which the poor girl descended, closing up.
 
This has a strong claim to be one of the best filmed versions of Giselle currently available and it is certainly among the most enjoyable. Browsing a ballet internet chat room earlier today, I discovered an old post from September 2007 when, it seems, this performance was temporarily off the market. According to the poster, secondhand copies were selling then at “astronomical” prices. Perhaps, if you’re a lover of Adam’s long-lived ballet warhorse, it might be a good idea to snap up your copy now.
 
Rob Maynard


Experience Classicsonline