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Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Coppélia, Ballet in 3 Acts (1870)
Margarita Shrayer (Swanilda)
Artem Ovcharenko (Frantz)
Alexey Loparevich (Coppélius)
Nadezhda Blagova (automaton Coppélia)
Alexander Fadeyechev (Lord of Manor)
Yuri Ostrovsky (Burgomaster)
Nikolay Mayorov (Chronos)
Bolshoi Ballet
Orchestra of the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre/Pavel Sorokin
Choreographer: Sergey Vicharev
rec. 10 June 2018, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, Russia
Video 16:9, Audio 2.0 PCM and 5.1 DolbyDigital

This must be a new benchmark performance of Coppelia because the visual aspects of the production are so superbly wedded to the romantic music of Delibes’ fine score. From choreography to costumes to scenery to lighting and camera angles the effect is stunning. Much care has been taken in the recording to achieve an appealing visual perspective and clear sound presentation to provide good enjoyment for all.

Coppelia was a great success when it first appeared in Paris in 1870, not only was Delibes’ music so accessible to the listener but its fantasy story by E. Hoffmann is good theatre and is one that is easily told in mime and dance to an audience of all ages. From the ballet, the popular music of Swanilda’s Waltz, Mazurka and Czardas have been available since recorded music began. The dancing is traditional, from the 1870 Paris choreography of Arthur Saint-Léon that was brought to Russia by Marius Petipa (of the Marinsky Ballet, St Petersburg). Its revival for this production has been conceived by Vladimir Grigoriev who has, fortunately for us, left all the traditional ballet elements intact.

This performance is full of energy and points to the expertise of the dancers, their training and rehearsal. There is particularly demanding dancing required from Swanilda, Frantz, the leads in the Mazurka, and the Chinese automaton which here is achieved to perfection. London’s Covent Garden theatre raved over Margarita Shrayner when she appeared there in 2016 as a new principal elevated from the Bolshoi Corp de Ballet for that visit. A little under two years later she appears in this performance and carries considerable charm in her dancing and character. Artem Ovcharenko became a Bolshoi principal dancer in 2013, and possesses excellent skills as a performer and has the looks and grace of movement to match. He regularly performs on stage with his wife Anna Tikhomirova, whom he married in 2016. The precise dancing and elegance of movement by Shrayner and Ovcharenko is superb throughout.

Coppelia’s Act I offers a spectacle of large dance numbers for both corps and soloists; these are particularly engaging, with their vivacious choreography. Act II’s room within Dr Coppelius’s house reveals snooping villagers who look for the pretty yet aloof girl they saw sitting in the window and instead discover automatons that they can wind up to perform programmed routines. They tease the Doctor when he returns to find his house broken into. Swanilda dresses as the window doll Coppelia and lets the Doctor think his spells to bring the doll to life with energy from a drugged Frantz have worked. Shrayner’s mechanical dancing at this point is fascinating, most effective and highly amusing. A version of this Second Act (not used here) varies from the original where the Doctor teaches Swanilda how to move realistically like a mechanical doll to fool Frantz when he awakes.

Act III sees the marriage of Swanilda to Frantz take place amongst colourful festivities. Dr Coppelius has demanded money for the damage caused by mischief in his house and is prepared to ruin the wedding. The mayor takes pity and gives Coppelius a bag of money to forget the upset.

The Kalmus edition of the full score is used for this production, with a 40+ strong orchestra under the baton of Pavel Sorokin, a Moscow citizen who started out as an accompanist at the Bolshoi in the 1980s before going to study at the Paris Conservatoire and Boston before, in turn, returning to the Bolshoi as proficient conductor.

The television recording was a joint venture between the Bolshoi Theatre (Moscow) and Pathé television (France). It was streamed live from Moscow by Pathé on Sunday, 10 June 2018 to cinemas, as a digital transmission. I hesitate to state that this is a ‘live’ recording because visually the camera angles change accurately and sensitively on music cues, which is usually restricted to off-line editing. One puzzle with this DVD is its mastering to the NTSC (American) television system standard when both Russia and France have been using the superior SECAM system prior to digitization. This said, the DVD is found to read correctly by universal PAL DVD players (all regions). The transfer to DVD via NTSC is not as crisp as might be expected for a modern recording, which must be due to Bel Air’s encoding translation rather than its origination. Advertised as High Definition this is not strictly true as a lack of tonal colour depth is noticed. A glitch of frame synchronisation occurred in the Mazurka dance but this does not detract in any way from one’s enjoyment. (These findings may not be true of the Blu-ray version of this recording). More of a disappointment is that the DVD lacks a booklet to give some notes on the history, the Bolshoi or its principals. Sadly, the Bel Air website does not help, by making its exceedingly difficult to make contact with them, due to ‘captcha’ pseudo security.

Raymond J Walker



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