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The Frederick Ashton Collection - Volume Two
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Sylvia - ballet in three acts (1876)
Ferdinand HÉROLD (1791-1833)
La fille mal gardée - ballet in two acts (1828)
John LANCHBERY (1923-2003)
The Tales of Beatrix Potter - ballet in one act (1971, revised for stage 1992)
Royal Ballet
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Graham Bond, Anthony Twiner, Paul Murphy
rec. 2005
Picture: 16:9. Sound: 2.0 PCM Stereo / 5.1 DTS. Format: NTSC. Region code: 0 (all regions).
OPUS ARTE OA1281BD DVD [303 mins]

This box set brings together three ballets on DVD from Opus Arte, all three released previously as stand-alone discs. In Volume One of the Frederick Ashton Collection, Opus Arte collected eight of the shorter ballets that Ashton choreographed. Here we have full-length ballets that all represent the bucolic side of the classical ballet repertoire. Luckily, these are fairly light-hearted works with little hint of the type of tragedy found in most romantic-era ballets.

The performance of Sylvia is the earliest of the Ashton Productions in the collection. The premiere took place in 1952, when it was very well received by the critics. Even back then it was noted that the Victorian charm of this piece had faded somewhat in the light of the 20th century. The 2005 performance was a major revival for the Royal Ballet. It is clear that the company put a lot of time, money and effort to bring Sylvia back to life. The plot which revolves around the Goddess Diana, Nymphs, shepherds and pirates is sadly lifeless today, and the high production values on display here do not really help to enliven the event as one would have hoped. Today the reason for spending time with Sylvia is to hear Delibes’s marvellous score. The brilliance of the music comes a very close second to the more familiar music in Coppélia. Graham Bond leads the orchestra in a very fine reading of the delightful numbers that Delibes composed. The dancing is faultless. Roberto Bolle and Darcy Bussell make a most attractive pair of lead soloists.

Ashton’s reworking of Hérold’s La fille mal gardée, premiered in 1960, has remained fresh and alive throughout the ensuing sixty years. I would go as far as to say that this ballet is Ashton’s most perfect and enduring conception. In reviving La fille, he brought in John Lanchbery to rework the score utilizing the work of some other composers of the early romantic period. The Lanchbery score owes a debt to Donizetti’s l’Elisir d’amore and Rossini’s La Cenerentola among others that I can recognize. This 2005 revival featuring Mariella Nuñez and Carlos Acosta in the lead roles is a truly lively rendition of the bucolic comedy. There is so much to enjoy here that it is difficult to isolate elements for praise. The famous dance with the ribbons, one of Ashton’s most perfect choreographies, is superbly executed by the company. Conductor Anthony Twiner makes the orchestra sparkle in this presentation.

The Tales of Beatrix Potter is one of Ashton’s later ballets. It is a live stage adaptation of a 1971 theatrical film directed by Reginald Mills, which featured Ashton’s choreography; he even danced the role of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle for the film. The Royal Ballet created a staged version of the film using Ashton’s choreography, which premiered in 1992. This disc documents the 2007 revival. The score for this ballet was conceived by John Lanchbery. He reworked a collection of forgotten Victorian instrumental pieces that he felt should be heard again in new clothing. The charming banjo accompaniment to the gavotte for .Mrs Tiggy-Winkle is a perfect example of Lanchbery’s achievement in creating this score. The ballet is danced with great style by members of the company, who do a fantastic job in what must be very difficult circumstances: the elaborate costumes with the heavy animal headdresses must be an absolute nightmare for the dancers to work in. They all have my sympathy for the difficulty they must endure in making this all look so effortless. The audience seem to enjoy the evening, judging by their reactions. I feel ultimately that the ballet in its staged incarnation is a somewhat less vivid experience than when watching the original film. This is possibly because Ashton had died in 1988 and was not around to oversee the development of the live ballet. A charming release nonetheless.

The sound and picture on all three DVDs are excellent. The collector box includes an impressive booklet containing notes and photos of all three productions.

Mike Parr

Details

Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Sylvia - ballet in three acts (1876)
Choreography by Frederick Ashton
Darcey Bussell - Sylvia
Roberto Bolle - Aminta
Thiago Soares - Orion
Martin Harvey - Eros
Mara Galeazzi -Diana
Artists of the Royal Ballet
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Graham Bond
Directed by Ross MacGibbon
rec. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 1, 5 December 2005
previously released on OPUS ARTE OA 0986 D [116:00]

Ferdinand HÉROLD (1791-1833)
La fille mal gardée - ballet in two acts (1828)
Music freely adapted and arranged by John Lanchbery
Choreography by Frederick Ashton
Carlos Acosta - Colas
Marianela Nuñez - Lise
William Tuckett - Simone
Jonathan Howells - Alain
David Drew - Thomas
Giacomo Ciriaci - Cockerel
Alastair Marriott - Notary
Artists of the Royal Ballet and students of the Royal Ballet Upper School
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Anthony Twiner
Directed by Ross MacGibbon
rec. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 2 February 2005
previously released on OPUS ARTE OA 0992 D [111:00]

John LANCHBERY (1923-2003)
The Tales of Beatrix Potter - ballet in one act (1971, revised for stage 1992)
Choreography by Frederick Ashton
Victoria Hewitt - Mrs Tittlemouse
Ricardo Cervera - Johnny Town-mouse
Jonathan Howells - Mrs Tiggy-Winkle
Jemma Sykes - Jemmima Puddle-Duck
Gary Avis - The Fox
Bennet Gartside - Pigling Bland
Laura Morera - Pig-wig
David Pickering - Aunt Pettitoes
Zachary Faruque - Mr Jeremy Fisher
Giacomo Ciriaci - Tom Thumb
Iohna Loots - Hunca Munca
Joshua Tuifua - Peter Rabbit
Steven McRae - Squirrel Nutkin
Artists of the Royal Ballet and students of the Royal Ballet Upper School
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Paul Murphy
Directed by Jonathan Haswell
rec. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 23, 27 December 2005
previously released on OPUS ARTE OA 1001 D [76:00]



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