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S & H International Concert Review

Peer Gynt as a ballet in Two Acts The music of Edvard GRIEG interspersed with the Peer Gynt ballet music by Alfred SCHNITTKE Ballet: Stela KORLJAN Saturday 13 April 2002, LandesTheater, Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (RB)


The LandesTheater in Rendsburg is a large squarish building which perhaps dates back to the 1920s. The town was spared war damage. I did not have time to count but the hall must have seating for about 500 including a balcony. All the seats were taken. We were seated almost at the back of the hall which also had a circle.

The playing was spirited and had clearly benefited from plenty of rehearsal and from the Flensburg premiere which had taken place on 30 March. The orchestra of about 58 (names printed in free programme) were seated in a traditional theatre pit. Their conductor was Per Borin.

The production was striking. Lambent staging caught the idea of Scandinavian light. Blues predominated for the stage; whites and blacks for the clothing. The women's costumes carried the suggestion of Edvard Munch's girls' white dresses (see the Munch canvas Three Girls at the Shore, Kiel Kunsthalle). The men's costumes ran the gamut from traditional Norwegian to nineteenth century stove pipe hats ('cylinder' in German) to coats with tails.

This was certainly not a classical ballet with tutus and tights. The dancing in the first of the two acts carried the suggestion of Norwegian folk steps.

The prized moments include tremulous happiness for the impetuous self indulgent Gynt with Kaloyan Boyadjiev. The dance with his mother Ase was humorous; also perhaps mildly and very oddly erotic (though this was as nothing to Gynt's Lemminkainen-like dances with the maidens at the wedding festivity and the amorous entwinement with the Goblin King's lickerish daughter.).

Great use is made of the two level staging with the levels linked by a concave section running the whole stage-width and about three metres high. This is used to suggest a glacier, as a slide of which much capital is made in the energetic dances and as a margin between heaven and hell. That section also yawns apart to reveal the gibbering goblin clan, as a window into a Hogarthian Bedlam and the blackness of the grave. The anti-hero, spurned by those who earlier desired him unconditionally, is tormented by a stocky dark fiddler (who serenades and cajoles him at one stage with a ghoulish version of God Save the Queen) and by a character rather like the skeletal butler in The Rocky Horror Show who also doubles as the Gynt's chief gaoler and torturer in the asylum scene in Act 2. The Asylum scene is one of the most effective with its banks of fluttering fluorescent lights.

Gynt, amazingly danced by Boyadjiev, punctuates the plot with moments in which he gazes wide-eyed at the audience, childlike, looking for approval or for sympathy. He struck me visually as another Irek Mukhamedov.

Amid the grimness there is some humour not least when the Ase rushes after Gynt with a large knife when he disrupts the wedding ceremony with a storm of testosterone-fuelled lubricious energy.

The First Act worked very well but in the Second the sequence of hope, rejection, torment, disdain, despair and death was rather unrelieved and the production lost its way.

Judging by their names the dancers are an international gathering with a predominance of Bulgarians, Rumanians and Russians.

This was a multi-media event with the various songs taken by excellent singers (the two women being particularly notable) who can dance and act or at least move convincingly about the stage.

The performance of the music was spirited and only suffered because of the suggestion of boxiness or artificiality perhaps imparted by the hall and the pit. The solo flute playing was notable and Morning went with a fine long slow swing. Intriguing the number of gentle Tchaikovskian hallmarks I noticed in this music for the first time. Quite properly the conductor was called to the stage for bows at the end.

I am not absolutely sure, but the Schnittke movements seemed to be played back recordings rather than being given by the orchestra present. I say this because the orchestral playing was more reverberant than in the Grieg - larger and with the suggestion of another acoustic. The Schnittke was in no sense pastiche Grieg. This was Schnittke the intensely sour, the disillusioned, with twelve-tone inclinations even if not totally embraced, suggestive of nightmare and the netherworld. It was used accordingly to provide a harsher psychological dimension than the Grieg could have been equal to. It goes to the credit of the music director that the stylistic gear changes between Grieg and Schnittke were not disruptive of each other.

Allowing for the over-extended Act 2 the production worked well. I certainly recommend that you try it out if it finds its way to you.

Rob Barnett


I wondered about other Gynt pieces. The programme note mentions Werner Egk's opera. In addition there is some ballet music by Harald Sæverud. I seem to recall that the British conductor, Leslie Heward, is said to have completed a Peer Gynt opera. Heward died in the 1940s.

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