Gabriel Yared is of course best known for his high profile film music, scores like The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley, Possession and Cold Mountain. But he has also written an appreciable amount of concert music and four ballet scores: Le diable amoureux, Un d’ici, Shamrock and this one, Clavigo, to Roland Petit’s choreography.
On his composition style and inspiration, Yared commented, “I first read Goethe’s play to immerse myself in the spirit of the story…I focused on the innocent, poignant figure of Marie. She inspired me with a lyric theme which recurs three times, each time under a new guise…[Although the setting is late 18th century] I definitely did not want to write ‘period’ music. On the contrary I tried to use the greatest variety of styles, to explore the various types of music I like, for the sheer pleasure of composing music one could dance to.”
The story of Clavigo follows a curious literary/musical curve. The real Clavico, a citizen of Madrid, in the 1760s, José Clavijo y Farjardo, seduced Lisette the youngest sister of the French writer Beaumarchais, author of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. But Clavigo abandoned Lisette in favour of seeking fame and fortune. Beaumarchais took brotherly revenge by recounting this unsavoury episode in his writings. Goethe transformed Beaumarchais’s short story into a sombre five-act tragedy creating the diabolical character Carlos who tempts Clavigo into debauchery, devastating Lisette (renamed Marie by Goethe) and causing her to die of despair, thus pushing her brother to avenge her by killing Clavigo. It is from Goethe’s play that Roland Petit draws freely for his themes for this ballet.
Clavigo’s production values are spare with minimalist sets: grey panels or chequered flooring; and 18th century costumes with the women in flimsy, wispy Empire-style gowns pinched just below the bosom. Petit’s choreography is striking, often quite startlingly original and makes much demand upon his dancers, putting them through the most extraordinary, almost impossible-seeming contortions, but without sacrificing taste and refinement. His choreography and Yared’s music complement each other very well. In the first scene, a ball, Yared’s dance measures are, at first, in a classical 17th century or earlier style to suit a calmer dance scene but, with the entrance of Clavigo and the development of his unsettling influence on Marie, Yared’s music becomes more modern, more dramatic, more unsettling more akin to Prokofiev and Shostakovich and there is more than a hint of Bernard Herrmann in the music’s disquiet and unresolved tension. The music is strongly rhythmic and disturbingly melodious. It returns at the end of the ballet as we witness Clavigo’s death throes after Marie’s brother has taken his revenge. Nicolas Le Riche is a remarkable Clavigo, seemingly rubber-jointed in his sensual seduction of Marie in the ball scene. One remarkable episode in his seduction dance with Marie (the equally lithe Clairmarie Osta) has them seemingly glued in a prolonged kiss as they weave over and around each other in the most intricate patterns. Later, abandoned and alone, Marie anguishes, and, in a grotesque nightmare, she hallucinates that a figure descends a rope ladder to her bedside, a figure resembling a huge black spider that makes love to her before abandoning her. The whole of this ‘Marie’s Chamber’ scene has sympathetic delicate choreography for Marie and Yared’s music is tenderly romantic and underlines Marie’s vulnerability. In the Gambling Salon scene, a very different femme fatale, ‘The Stranger’, danced by Marie-Agnès Gillot, closely resembling Ava Gardner, and dressed alluringly in threatening red, dances hotly, seductively to Yared in blousy jazzy/Latin mode. Petit’s choreography for all the lead singers and corps de ballet, who all shine, is consistently imaginative and beautifully realised in pas de deux, pas de trois or ensemble.
Fascinating modern ballet with wonderfully imaginative Petit choreography and a memorable Yared score.
Ian and Grace Lace