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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY(1840-1893)
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1892) [108:00]
Clara Staalboom - Anna Tsygankova
Prince/Mr Drosselmeijer’s nephew - Matthew Golding
Nutcracker - James Stout
Mr Drosselmeijer - Wolfgang Tietze
Louise, Clara’s sister - Nadia Yanowsky
Frits, Clara’s brother - Rink Sliphorst
Mouse King - Alexander Zhembrovskyy
Mr Staalboom - Nicolas Rapaic
Mrs Staalboom - Rachel Beaujean
Young Clara - Amaljá Yuno
Young Frits - Giovanni van den Berg
Poet - Juanjo Arqués
Faun - Roman Artyushkin
Old Don Juan - Steven Etienne
Prince inside the magic lantern - Oleksey Smolyakov
Princess inside the magic lantern - Erica Horwood
Leading snowflakes - Maria Chugal and Sasha Mukamedov
Students from the Nationale Balletacademie Amsterdam
Children’s Choir ‘Waterland’
Holland Symfonia/Ermanno Florio
Directed, filmed and edited by Altin Kaftira
Choreography by Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling
rec. live, Amsterdam Music Theatre, 2011
Sound formats: PCM stereo, dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Picture format: 16:9
Region code: worldwide
Resolution: 1080i High Definition
Blu-ray disc 25 GB (single layer)
ARTHAUS MUSIK 108087 [108:00 + over 150:00 (bonus)]

Rob Maynard reviewed this - here - on an earlier blu-ray release in August 2012 (Arthaus 108054) and Dan Morgan tackled the DVD equivalent in October 2012 - here. I’m surprised that it’s been reissued so quickly. Online dealers seem to stock both blu-ray versions, but the new catalogue number has brought a considerable reduction in price to around £8 - even less from some - so it’s important to choose the right one, as the original remains available for around £30. The bonus material has been expanded from 27 minutes of interviews to over 150 minutes of trailers for other ballet recordings in the series. I’m not sure if this is a temporary or a permanent offer, so you had better snap it up if you want it.
Opinions will be divided, as, indeed, were our two reviewers: Dan Morgan thought it lacking in magic while Rob Maynard found it very enjoyable. I find myself with a foot in both camps, though inclining to the latter. Overall I thought that the gains outweighed any losses and enjoyed it but you should also see what our other two reviewers thought.
The first loss: there’s no Christmas tree and some of the usual presents are missing, replaced by a mechanical cat, who reappears to help see off the mice in Act II. You read that correctly: the Mouse King, here looking more like King Rat*, defeats the Nutcracker in Act I of this version, carrying off his defeated soldiers in a tumbril, and doesn’t finally receive his come-uppance from the Nutcracker-Prince until Act II. That actually makes some sense, as it explains the reprise of the battle music and it brings the mice more closely into the action, hence the subtitle of this production, derived from the ETA Hoffman tale, Nußnacker und Mausekönig which inspired the plot. It’s a nice touch to have nurse-mice wearing red crosses bearing the injured off on stretchers.
* in the Hoffmann story he has seven heads, so making him larger than life is fair enough. In the story, too, the Nutcracker requires two attempts to kill the Mouse King.
The missing tree is explained by the transfer of the action from Christmas to Amsterdam on St Nicholas’ Day (6 December) when Dutch children receive their presents or, if badly behaved, a lump of coal. St Nic duly makes his appearance, together with his Moorish servant who doles out the coal. All very well, but that means there’s no indoor tree to burgeon into the fir forest in the transformation scene. The modification of Drosselmeier’s name with an extra j and Clara’s family to the Staalbooms is a small matter. I’ve retained the more familiar form Drosselmeier in this review.
We move pretty quickly from that fir forest not to the traditional land of sweets but to the inside of Drosselmeier’s magic lantern - so that’s what that big present was that we saw brought in under wraps at the beginning. Indeed, the said gentleman pops up to orchestrate the action throughout this production, not just in Act I, which again makes sense in view of the indications that he is a magic toymaker; in the Hoffmann story he is the children’s Pate or Godfather. In case we don’t understand the ethnic nature of the characteristic dances and the dancers’ costumes, we see a slide show of the various countries through the lens of his magic lantern, which is colourful but a tad distracting, as is having Frits in chains in the Arabian Dance.
Having sounded off about so many opera recordings that have been ruined by the bright ideas of their producer, I’m happy to report that nothing here, for all the changes to the traditional plot, struck a discordant note. I had a few doubts when the action began during the overture with a domestic scene chez Staalboom and even more when skaters appeared outside the house. Having just seen a clip of Nutcracker on Ice about to open in London, I feared the worst. In fact it’s an excellent idea to set the wintry scene outside the house in this way to accompany the guests arriving, viewed from outside before we see them inside the house.
Both Claras, young and old, dance superbly and are well supported by the other principals and the corps de ballet. Choreography is excellent - even die-hard traditionalists should not find anything of consequence to bemoan - and very well realised by all concerned.
Tempi can sometimes be a problem in ballet - does the conductor aim at interpreting the music or assisting the dancers? Though I haven’t encountered Ermanno Florio before, he gets the balance just right here, meaning that the performance in purely audio terms is not far behind my favourite recordings from Ernest Ansermet (budget price Australian Decca Eloquence 4800557 or all three ballets on Brilliant Classics 94032), André Previn (budget price EMI, now Warner 9676942 - review), Alexander Vedernikov (PentaTone PTC5186091 - 2012/22 Download News) and Simon Rattle (EMI, now Warner 6463852 - reviews). It’s far preferable to the recording by Mikhail Pletnev (Ondine).
Rob Maynard reported some movement blur on his review copy. I think that may have been a rogue because mine was free from such glitches. The picture was perfect and the sound, decent enough when played through a flat-screen TV, very good when played via my audio set-up.

Presentation is poor. Instead of a booklet, the synopsis and very brief - almost breathless - notes are printed on the reverse of the cover in white on light turquoise and can be read only by pulling them out from the case. Small reservations like this aside, however, this is well worth acquiring, especially at its new lower price, or giving as a Christmas present.
I have one other Tchaikovsky ballet to suggest: Neeme Järvi’s new recording of Swan Lake (Chandos CHSA5124) joins a distinguished list of recordings of this music and is especially worth considering by fans of SACD and Studio Master downloads.
Brian Wilson 

Previous reviews: Rob Maynard (previous issue Blu-ray) ~~ Dan Morgan (DVD)