MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Pyo’tr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan lake, ballet in three Acts (1875-1876)
Choreography by Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Alexander Gorsky
Odette/Odille: Natalia Matsak, Prince Siegfried: Denys Nedak, Rothbart: Yaroslav Tkachuk, Pas de trois: Ganna Muromtseva, Olga Skripchenko and Oleksandre Skulkine, The brides and big swans: Margarita Alyanakh, Irina Borisova, Ganna Muromtseva and Svetlana Onipko, Little swans: Elisaveta Goguidze, Katerina Didenko, Inna Chorna and Katerina Chupina, Venetian dance: Oleksandre Skulkine, The tutor: Sergey Litvinenko, The knight: Vladislav Ivashchenko, The Queen: Ludmila Melnik
Ballet Company of the National Opera of Ukraine
Orchestra of the National Opera of Ukraine/Mykola Dyadura
Directed for TV by Bertrand Normand
rec. 2019, National Opera of Ukraine, Kiev
Video: 1 BD50 Full HD
Audio: PCM 2.0 and DTS Master Audio 5.1
Region code: A, B, C
BELAIR CLASSIQUES Blu-ray BAC574 [129 mins]

Do we need yet another filmed Swan lake? Even when I put to one side the large number of performances that have appeared only in DVD format and confine myself solely to Blu-ray discs - and to relatively conventional accounts - I already find on my shelves performances from Zakharova/Bolle/La Scala (Arthaus Musik 108 144), Nuñez/Soares/Royal Ballet (Opus Arte OA BD7131 D), Osipova/Golding/Royal Ballet (Opus Arte OA BD7174 D), Nuñez/Muntagirov/Royal Ballet (Opus Arte OA BD7256 D), Zakharova/Rodkin/Bolshoi Ballet (BelAir Classiques BAC419), Hart/Schaufuss/London Festival Ballet (Arthaus Musik 109 185), Letestu/Martinez/Paris Opera Ballet (Opus Arte OA BD7001 D) and Esina/Shishov/Wiener Staatsballett (C major 717704).

Of course, any confirmed balletomane can easily justify collecting all those accounts and more. In the first place, the various filmed performances often showcase various choreographers’ modifications or outright augmentations to the familiar 1895 Swan lake revision by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. In those listed above, for instance, you will find, variously and to varying degrees, the additional input of Vladimir Burmeister, Sir Frederick Ashton, David Bintley, Liam Scarlett, Yuri Grigorovich, Natalia Makarova and Rudolf Nureyev. Secondly, true fans will also be eager to compare the artistry and technique of the various featured star dancers. How does the Bolshoi company’s grande dame Svetlana Zakharova stack up against her sometime colleague Natalia Osipova or Covent Garden’s current Tchaikovsky leading lady of choice Marianela Nuñez? Comparing such world-class artists on the basis of filmed performances is certainly a more economical and less time-consuming option – if, perhaps, rather less fun - than jetting around the globe to catch them live.

While hard-core ballet fans will need no convincing that any new Swan lake Blu-ray disc or DVD is to be welcomed, those with a less fanatical interest will want to know why this newly filmed and released performance by the Ballet Company of the National Opera of Ukraine deserves their consideration. The Blu-ray disc’s own cover highlights at least a couple of intriguing points worthy of further elaboration.

In the first place, we are promised some of Alexander Gorsky’s early 20th century choreographic alterations to Petipa/Ivanov. That appears to be, on the surface, a tempting proposition for, of the covers of the other discs listed above, only the Zakharova/Rodkin/Bolshoi performance advertises any input by Gorsky (1871-1924) at all. That, however, is not necessarily surprising. Given the ephemeral and undocumented nature of most productions, ballet history is a notoriously difficult field of study, so assessing Gorsky’s precise contribution to Swan lake is inevitably a problematic exercise. We do know, though, that throughout his career his general approach was to minimise, wherever possible, the visual formality and near-geometric artificiality preferred by Petipa and instead to put greater emphasis on realism. That was paralleled by a move to reduce rigidly-marshalled choreographic uniformity on stage by individualising and beefing up the characterisation of some of the supporting roles. Of course, such an approach was inappropriate in Swan lake’s “white” Acts where the mass uniformity and individual anonymity of the enslaved flock of birds is an intrinsic element of the story. Gorsky therefore focused instead on the two “realistic” scenes, where he broke up Petipa’s rigidly regimented crowds so as to make them appear more believable as a group of onlookers each engaging independently and spontaneously with the action and also introduced the scene-stealing character of the court jester. Unfortunately, though, the absence of full details of the 1895 Petipa/Ivanov production means that what already existed and what exactly Gorsky then added or modified from 1901 onwards remains frustratingly unclear. It is that fact, I think, that explains the absence of his name on the covers of the other filmed performances mentioned above, even if, in reality, their productions are quite probably based not strictly on Petipa/Ivanov but on Petipa/Ivanov/Gorsky. I’m afraid, therefore, that the additional nod given to Gorsky on this release’s rear cover is less enticing than it might first appear.

The second piece of intriguing information to be found on the disc’s cover is the identification of the dancers as members of the Ballet Company of the National Opera of Ukraine (henceforth BCNOU). While Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, the Kiev-based company was recognised along with the Bolshoi and the Kirov/Mariinsky as one of Russia’s big three. In the challenging economic and political circumstances following Ukrainian independence in 1991, however, its profile understandably diminished, especially when some of the top dancers that it nurtured – including Alina Cojocaru, Svetlana Zakharova and Leonid Sarafanov – were attracted away by the opportunities offered by better-resourced companies. As a result, it’s probably fair to say that these days BCNOU is a relatively unknown quantity to many ballet fans outside of eastern Europe, so that this release – following on from the same company’s Nutcracker which was recorded in 2018 and released on DVD some months ago (BelAir Classiques BAC161) – both provides it with a welcome showcase and offers viewers an opportunity to check out a ballet company with which they will not necessarily be familiar.

This performance’s leading dancers, Natalia Matsak and Denys Nedak, have been regular partners for well over a decade and the level of confidence that they have in each other on stage is obvious. Ms Matsak is a gifted soloist who delivers convincing and technically adept interpretations of both winsome Odette and wicked Odile. She is not the most passionate dancer but her technique is consistently characterised by elegance and precision and she uses her long arms, in particular, to good effect. Those qualities make her a good match for Mr Nedak. His portrayal of the prince may initially seem somewhat restrained, but it exhibits an essential dignity and seriousness that soon convinces. In similar fashion, while his dancing is less flashy than that of some of his peers, it is always solidly grounded, utterly dependable and buttressed by a degree of physical strength that allows him to leap to impressive effect whenever required and to produce an impressively prolonged one-handed lift at the end of the Act 2 coda. Both dancers’ best qualities are on display in the Act 2 pas de deux, a particular highlight of the whole performance as Matsak delivers Odile’s 32 fouettés with utter confident aplomb and Nedak’s athleticism showcases him to best effect.

In many contemporary Swan lake productions Rothbart’s role is magnified and he becomes some sort of evil genius engaged in a titanic Manichean conflict with Prince Siegfried. In such cases the character is usually given a strikingly demonic physical appearance as well as more to do on stage. That’s not the case here, however. Yaroslav Tkachuk is clearly a handsome young man and really needs rather more grotesque make-up if he is to convey his character’s malevolence effectively. He’s also been fitted out in an unremarkable costume that communicates not so much the-veritable-reincarnation-of-Beelzebub as possibly-rather-a-bad-egg. More too could have been made of his time on stage. Instead, for instance, of incurring a prolonged and gory death at the hands of either Siegfried or, as sometimes occurs, the flock of vengeful swans, here he ultimately simply runs off anticlimactically – and minus just a single limb - into the wings. Given such unpromising material, the obviously talented Mr Tkachuk makes, however, the most of his opportunities. His athleticism is well demonstrated both in his Act 2 and in his frantic criss-crossing of the stage during Act 3.

The other company members, whether in featured roles or as members of corps de ballet, lend solid support to the leads, while Mykola Dyadura leads the Orchestra of the National Opera of Ukraine effectively and at sensible tempi that accommodate the dancers’ requirements.

Mention of the anticlimactic death (or not) of Rothbart suggests a related issue raised by this performance. To achieve the most effective and cathartic effect on audiences, productions need to incorporate well-conceived climaxes - but that isn’t always the case here. At the end of Act 2, for example, most productions show Siegfried running into the wings in search of Odette, leaving the hitherto passive figure of the queen to collapse centre-stage in a dramatic moment that gut-punches the audience members as it exorcises all their accumulated emotional baggage in a collective gasp of breath. In Kiev, however, the queen merely wilts slightly to one side as if suffering a minor headache, so that, without that visual cue of her fall to the ground, our collective tension remains unreleased. Similarly, this production also follows the old Soviet tradition of giving a happy ending to the final Act, with Odette and Siegfried surviving their ordeal and wandering off into happy-ever-after real life. I’m sure that I’m not alone in finding that an unsatisfactory conclusion. After all, the moral lesson of Swan lake ought not to be a happy one. Prince Siegfried must atone properly for his inconstancy by suffering Odette’s death – even if there’s the expectation of an eventual celestial reunion. “Happy ending” productions simply fail to deliver the thorough – and thoroughly satisfying - emotional passage through the wringer that’s provided by the alternative “sad” denouement.

This, it must be admitted, is by no means a lavishly mounted production. The appearance of the backdrops, scenery and costumes can be pretty cheap’n’cheerful, though thankfully not to the extent that any deficiencies distract us from the performers. The lighting, too, is rather flat and unimaginatively conceived, passable, perhaps, for a wet Wednesday matinee in the stalls but not the best for repeated viewing in High Definition at home.

I am also afraid that, yet again, the Blu-ray format has proved disappointing in its task of delivering a sharply focussed account of a staged ballet. This may be another case where a basic DVD turns out to be a better option, though, without one to use for comparison, I cannot say for sure. The Kiev company’s stars’ engaging performances are a delight – but, to compete effectively with their filmed rivals from the Bolshoi, the Royal Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet and the rest, they really deserve a better showcase than this.

By the way, the gifted Ms Matsak also deserves a better English version of her website, for the currently displayed page delivers an unintentionally hilarious screed of nonsensical gobbledegook. It assures us, for instance, that “during performances of Natalia in the hall of empty seats do not exist”. I suppose, however, that such full houses are hardly to be wondered at, given that the website also promises - somewhat more intriguingly - that Ms Matsak is “getting ready to surprise the audience with new and unique parties images”. Book now!
Rob Maynard

Previous review: Robert Cummings

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing