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Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake (1876) [132:00]
Choreography by Rudolf Nureyev, after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov
Prince Siegfried – Vladimir Shishov
Odette/Odille – Olga Esina
Queen – Dagmar Kronberger
Rothbart – Eno Peci
Prince’s friends – Alice Firenze, Kiyoka Hashimoto, Masayu Kimoto, Greig Matthews
Big swans – Gala Jovanovic, Oxana Kiyanenko, Laura Nistor, Prisca Zeisel
Cygnets – Maria Alati, Ioanna Avraam, Eszter Ledán, Rui Tamai
Wiener Staatsballett
Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper/Alexander Ingram
rec. live, Wiener Staatsoper, 16 March 2014
Video director: Michael Beyer
Filmed in High Definition
Mastered from an HD source
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound formats: PCM stereo and DTS 5.0
Region code 0 (worldwide)
C MAJOR 717608 DVD [132:00]

Writing on these pages a few weeks ago, I speculated whether a contractual requirement of some sort caused the Wiener Staatsballett to describe its latest production of The nutcracker as "Rudolf Nureyev's The nutcracker" (see here).

I ought perhaps, though, to have considered another reason that's just as likely an explanation for that particular form of billing. Even two decades after his death, Nureyev remains the only male dancer familiar to the general public. Is it the case, therefore, that his name above the title still possesses a significant commercial pulling power? Whatever the reason, the Wiener Staatsballett now offers us "Rudolf Nureyev's Swan lake".

I'm delighted to say that several of the reservations that I expressed about that production of The nutcracker do not apply to the Staatsballett's Swan lake. Those pesky children who got in the way of the serious adult dancing in the former simply don't figure in the Swan lake story. As a result, the latter's own opening "party" scene remains comparatively uncluttered, giving the skilled corps de ballet a far better opportunity to show their abilities. That whole opening half hour or so communicates, in fact, a real sense of company joie de vivre and everyone on stage genuinely looks as though they are having a good time. That atmosphere is enhanced by the attractive costumes that are a constant feature of this production - on this occasion in a fetching shade of eau de nil, which is, incidentally, surely the most inappropriately named colour in the book for the muddy brown waters of the Nile.

I'm also rather happier with Swan lake's leading lady, Olga Esina, than I was with her Nutcracker counterpart. Ms Esina is not only a technically assured dancer but inhabits her dual roles with complete comfort. Cleverly differentiating them by facial expression - especially the use of her eyes - she communicates pathos as effectively as passion. As a result, just for once, virginal Odette appears almost as interesting and compelling a character as vivaciously wicked Odille. The Vienna audience loves her/them.

Nureyev's conception of Prince Siegfried is as a more thoughtful, contemplative character than we sometimes see. Danseur noble Vladimir Shishov's heroic yet thoughtful mien is even better suited to this role than to those of Drosselmeier and the prince that he took in Wiener Staatsballett's The nutcracker. He dances with real authority and, even when conveying emotional diffidence or hesitation, effortlessly dominates the stage. He is also a particularly good physical match for Ms Esina.

Of the other named roles, the dancer cast in the role of Rothbart does look disconcertingly young. Why ought that to be an issue? Youth, after all, can exhibit just as much malevolence as middle age - it's just that it doesn't usually have the means or the opportunity to put it into practice. The queen proceeds regally around the stage from time to time as ballet monarchs usually do, while managing to look remarkably unfazed by the utter disaster befalling her son at the end of the third Act. The succession of character dances that leads up to that particular climax allows more members of the company to demonstrate their talent and, in doing so, confirms Staatsballett's strength in depth. It's a pity that the set is rather bare and lacking in atmosphere - the only gold in evidence is the gilding on the queen's distinctly modest throne - but the dancers' artistry more than compensates.

The conductor on this occasion is Alexander Ingram and I was very impressed with the care he applied to Tchaikovsky's score, matching tempi and dynamics closely at all times to the practical requirements of the on-stage action. The Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper plays atmospherically and with great accomplishment throughout.

Michael Beyer directs the video recording with great skill. Cameras have been placed at exactly the right spots to capture the drama and to show the dancers to best effect. This is a beautifully filmed record of an attractive production. As such, even in a crowded marketplace, it deserves a warm welcome.

Rob Maynard