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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) The Sleeping Beauty, Op 66
Ballet Company and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Milan/Felix Korobov
Choreography and Direction: Rudolf Nureyev
Choreographic Revival: Florence Clerc
Sets and Costumes: Franca Squarciapino
Lighting Designer: Marco Filibeck
rec. 2019, La Scala, Milan, Italy
Picture: NTSC 16:9. Sound: PCM Stereo/DTS 5.1. Region code: 0 (worldwide) C MAJOR DVD 756008 [158 mins]
This video release stems from a revival of the production which was staged in Milan in June and July of 2019. Two of my MusicWeb colleagues reported positively on the simultaneous Blu-ray release in January. It seems that I will have to be the lone reviewer who finds this to be a disappointment. While the performance has been captured in vivid sound and camerawork I find that Nureyev’s production and its revival to be well off the mark.
Nureyev first staged Sleeping Beauty for the National Ballet of Canada in 1972, and this was the largest production that had ever been undertaken by that company at the time. The sets and costumes designed by Nicolas Georgiadis created a serious cash flow crisis for the company although it was corrected over time and I believe the production is still in use today.
When Nureyev later came to produce the ballet for La Scala he chose to work with well known designer Franca Squarciapino to update the look of his production. Together they have conceived a
Sleeping Beauty that radiates a serious, almost sober tone to the proceedings. Nureyev appears to have decided to place the fairy tale within a court that has been inspired by Versailles. While in itself that isn’t a problem, the almost rigid adherence to representing that model of appearance and behaviour robs the story of any sense of charm, wonder or enchantment. Nureyev seems to forget that there is a fairy tale to be told here as well. The sets are certainly lovely and the architecture could easily be dropped into the background of a painting by Rubens or Van Dyck and not look out of place. The painted backdrops do reinforce a certain sense of massiveness which tend to dwarf the action going on in front of them. The entire production is dominated by the massive shell-shaped bed that follows Aurora from her birth to the end of the ballet. Prince Désiré has a bit of a time to negotiate climbing on to it to deliver his all-important kiss in a timely manner. Presumably, after they get married that monstrous bed would be the first thing to go. Nureyev makes some changes to the story to fit into his concept of rigid court etiquette. Gone are any sign of spindles but in their place are some rather threatening looking knitting needles and balls of yarn that are brandished by a group of peasant women who turn out to be cronies to Carabosse. Aurora eventually pricks her finger on a rose thorn in any case. The chief loss is anything relating to the enchanted forest. There are no magic vines growing over the castle of sleeping courtiers at the end of Act One. This was the point that I objected to the most as it is usually the most fantastic theatrical effect in the entire ballet.
Squarciapino’s costumes are certainly lovely but the Versailles-like theme invades here as well. The fairies, and in particular the Lilac Fairy and Carabosse are given costumes which aim to replicate the look of the court dancers from Lully’s ballet divertissements at Versailles during the reign of the Sun King. These costumes are rather heavy-handed things and make the dancers look much less graceful as they move about in them, with no impression of the ethereal registering. They are supposed to be fairies after all. The other costumes for the courtiers are made with rich and obviously expensive fabrics but unfortunately having the cameras show them in close-up they frequently appear rather garish. The most successful costumes are those for the Prince and Aurora, who are delightfully danced by P. Seminova and T. Andrijashenko respectively. The dancing of course it what it is all really about and the La Scala dancers do not disappoint in any way. The dancing of Act Two is by far the best of the whole evening and the Prince’s solos in this act are the epitome of ballet at its finest. This is perhaps because Act Two is the most intimate of the three acts and we are able to really concentrate on the mood created by the movements without being distracted by too much in the way of production values.
The camera work and picture quality are very fine indeed and the sound conveys the excellence of the La Scala orchestra under conductor Felix Korobov. I don’t recall ever having been so aware of the numerous contributions of the Piano in the scoring of Act Three; this may have something to do with the very dry acoustic of the La Scala Opera House.
Anyone who wants a decent modern version of Sleeping Beauty won’t be disappointed with this C Major release, but for something with much more magic I would suggest seeking out the Opus Arte DVD of Anthony Dowell’s remarkable staging of the ballet with equally opulent designs by the late Maria Björnson which is my top recommendation. There is an equally magical but simpler production in the Kirov ballet’s older staging by Konstatin Sergeyev for an evening of real ballet magic and theatricality. The 1989 RM Associates DVD can still be found on the resale market and is quite worth the trouble to find.
Princess Aurora: Polina Semionova
Prince Désiré: Timofej Andrijashenko
King Florestan XXIV: Alessandro Grillo
The Queen: Marta Romagna
Catalabutte, the master of ceremonies: Riccardo Massimi
The Lilac Fairy: Emanuela Montanari
Carabosse, the evil fairy: Beatrice Carbone
Ballet Company of Teatro Alla Scala directed by Frédéric Olivier