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Maurice JARRE (1924-2009)
Notre-Dame de Paris (1965)
Esmeralda - Natalia Osipova
Quasimodo - Roberto Bolle
Frollo - Mick Zeni
Phoebus - Eris Nezha
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala/Paul Connell
rec. Teatro alla Scala, Milan, February 2013.
With extra feature, ‘Behind the Curtain’ about the production.
OPUS ARTE Blu-ray OABD7146D [95:00 (ballet); 15:00 (extra feature)]

This is a remarkable modern ballet after Victor Hugo's novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The production follows, exactly, Roland Petit’s choreography laid down, in 1965, for the first performance by the Paris Opéra Ballet. He had already made a name for himself – some thought a notoriety – by his sensual, violent and energetic dancing for the ballet Carmen especially for his ‘rough, insensitive’ treatment of Bizet’s music.

Here we have an unusual but very modern Hunchback of Notre Dame employing a large corps de ballet dancing anything but classical ballet figures. Minimal sets are dominated by huge bells and a minimalistic illustration of the façade of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral lit and shadowed dramatically. Maurice Jarre’s music is, in the main, hard, percussive and angular.

The dancers' figures are correspondingly sharp, bony and raw; often with legs far apart, knees bent and taken in small regular side frog-like jumps. All dance in unison conveying a crowd with but one thought and attitude. At some points they even suggest a giant insect, the sort with a ‘hive’ instinct.

The costumes of the large crowd resemble those often seen in books covering the Middle Ages: single-coloured, rough peasant tunics – although many different colours are represented through the large throngs. Esmeralda alone wears softer, more appealing costumes as befits her kind, appealing nature. Frollo, the wicked arch-deacon of Notre Dame who lusts after Esmeralda, is dressed very darkly. A dark silk cross is made visible on his all black costume. Add to this his devilish and sleek black hair and eyes menacingly outlined in black. His dances are evil - menacing, jealous and hate-filled. The central deformed character Quasimodo, is dressed in lighter colours. His movements, as conceived by Roland Petit, are extraordinary and very, very different to those that are normally danced by Roberto Bolle in his more romantic hero classical ballet roles. Here he miraculously demonstrates Quasimodo’s deformity through some very awkward, jerky, lopsided movements. These are made appealing and humane when he is seen with Esmeralda in their playfully innocent, childlike dance together after he has rescued her from an angry mob stirred up by Frollo. One of the most dramatic scenes, to Jarre’s music which at this point is quite reminiscent of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, is that demonstrating Quasimodo’s occupation as bell-ringer when he swings on the huge Notre Dame bells.

An extraordinary and often riveting modern ballet with some very telling if uncomfortable Petit choreography

Ian Lace