A welcome to a new DVD from Russia, a dazzling film version of three favourite ballets from the Diaghilev Ballets Russes seasons in Paris.
Based on Michael Fokine’s choreography, these are expansive Mosfilm studio recreations, directed by Andris Liepa, who also dances Petroushka, Prince Ivan & Shakhriar. The Firebird is updated to modern fantasy film expectations, with more terrifying monsters etc, and even though it is put out in 4:3 format, there are three dimensional illusions (especially in the preliminaries). The filming is impressive with sumptuous costumes and fine sound for these three key scores, making for an irresistible entertainment.
The Petrushka will, perhaps, repay repeated viewing even more, with 'puppets' that make you care about their quarrels and fates, and both the Stravinsky scores are, of course, of such brilliant inventiveness that I cannot feel I shall ever tire of them.
Rimsky-Korsakov's score for Scheherazade is not on the same level, and in the concert hall gains from the wizardry of the greatest conductors. But it serves well as an accompaniment to dance for this luscious, over-the-top orientalist extravaganza, and it is invaluable to have these three famous ballets brought together. Excellent value is increased with an unusual extra, a charming sequence of 17 minutes rehearsal footage catching the dancers off-guard in informal moments and providing a behind the scenes impression of the preparatory work for making the film.
The proliferation of good quality ballet DVDs is fast persuading me that the classic ballet scores of Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Prokofiev lose a vital dimension in the concert hall, as does opera on CD, and that DVD is probably the best way for newer home audiences to approach these expensive entertainments.
I recommend this imaginative film strongly, and have also greatly enjoyed a DVD of Firebird and Les Noces, videoed at Covent Garden, with the bonus of Stravinsky conducting the Firebird Suite at his last London appearance in 1965 (Opus Arte DVD OA 0832 D).
Peter Grahame Woolf