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Blu-ray Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

The Three Ballets

Swan Lake
  • Odette/Odile - Svetlana Zakharova
  • Prince Siegfried - Roberto Bolle
  • Jester - Antoníno Sutera
  • Rothbart - Gianni Ghisleni
  • Princess - Sabrina Brazzo
  • Queen - Flavia Vallone
  • Pas de quatre - Beatrice Carbone; Alessandro Grillo; Maria F. Garritano; Mick Zeni
Corps de ballet of the Teatro alla Scala
Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala/James Tuggle
Choreography - Vladimir Burmeister and Lev Ivanov
Stage Directors - Florence Clerc and Frédéric Olivieri
Set and Costume Designer - Roberta Guidi di Bagno
Lighting Designer - Gianni Mantovanini
Recorded live from the Teatro degli Arcimboldi, Milan, 2004
The Sleeping Beauty
  • Princess Aurora - Larissa Lezhnina
  • Prince Désiré - Farukh Ruzimatov
  • Lilac Fairy - Yulia Makhalina
  • Carabosse - Vadim Guliayev
  • The King - Gennady Babanin
  • The Queen - Nina Mikhailova
The Kirov Ballet
Unspecified Orchestra/Viktor Fedotov
Choreography by Marius Petipa, revised by Konstantin Sergeyev
Artisitc Director and Chief Choreographer - Oleg Vinogradov
Set and Costume Design - Simon Virsaladze
Recorded Live at the Place des Arts, Montreal, Canada, June 1989
The Nutcracker and The Mouse King
  • Clara Staalboom - Anna Tsygankova
  • Prince/Drosselmeijer's nephew - Matthew Golding
  • Nutcracker - James Stout
  • Mr. Drosselmeijer - Wolfgang Tietze
  • Louise, Clara's sister - Nadia Yanowsky
  • Frits, Clara's brother - Rink Sliphorst
  • Mouse king - Alexander Zhembrovskyy
  • Mr. & Mrs. Staalboom - Nicolas Rapaic and Rachel Beaujean
  • Young Clara - Amaljá Yuno
  • Young Frits - Giovanni van den Berg
  • Poet - Juanjo Arqués
  • Faun - Roman Artyushkin
  • Old Don Juan - Steven Etienne
  • Prince and Princess inside the magic lantern - Oleksey Smolyakov and Erica Horwood
  • Snowflakes (lead) - Maria Chugal and Sasha Mukamedov
The Dutch National Ballet
Students from the Nationale Balletacademie Amsterdam
Children's Choir "Waterland"
Holland Symfonia/Ermanno Florio
Choreography - Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling
Set & Costume Design - Toer van Schayk
Lighting Design - Hans Åke Sjöquist
Recorded Live at the Amsterdam Music Theatre, 2011
Arthaus Musik Blu-ray 107544 3Discs (133m+129m+108m+27m) LPCM Stereo (all) DTS-HD Master Audio (Nutcracker)
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from ArkivMusic.comFind it at CD Universe Find it at JPC

There are at least two other video sets containing all three of these ballets: a four-disc collection of DVDs on Opus Arte (OA0828D) featuring different ballet companies, conductors and orchestras in each of the productions, and a Melodiya set of DVDs featuring the Bolshoi Ballet that also includes Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. I have not seen these other efforts, but apparently this new set from Arthaus Musik is the only one on Blu-ray. I should immediately point out, in case you haven't looked over the heading closely, that while this is a "new" issue from Arthaus Musik, the performances date to 1989 (The Sleeping Beauty), 2004 (Swan Lake) and 2011 (The Nutcracker). The two older performances are upscaled to HD, and I'll be saying more about that later on.

From a technological point of view The Nutcraker is the most impressive production here. But in artistic terms too, it is excellent: dancing is superb, especially from the two leads, Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding; the Holland Symfonia performs with accuracy and total commitment under the knowing hand of conductor Ermanno Florio; and the production values are consistently high. The sets are very colorful and often seem to be changing. I think the choreography in The Nutcracker is the most imaginative and visually arresting from among the three ballets in this set. It's especially noteworthy in the First Act for the scenes in the Drosselmeijer home. It is full of character and subtlety, and the dancers, including the many child dancers, respond with real spirit. Amaljá Yuno as Young Clara and Giovanni van den Berg as Young Frits dance with ease and total confidence and may well have major careers ahead of them in their adult years.

I should mention that Act II in this production takes place not in the Land of Sweets but inside a magic lantern. There are a few other changes and added characters, but the overall story remains mostly intact and everything works quite well. The picture clarity and sound reproduction are first rate. All in all, this is perhaps one of the finest performances of The Nutcracker on video. I have reviewed two other video performances of The Nutcracker, one in 2012 from BelAir Classiques (BAC473) and the other in 2013 from Kultur that featured a Gergiev-led affair (BD4786). Both were quite fine, but the Gergiev had the edge. This new effort from Arthaus Musik, however, rivals the excellent Gergiev for top honors.

The bonus track on this disc contains nearly a half-hour of interviews with Ermanno Florio, choreographer and set designer Toer van Schayk, many of the dancers, and various other personnel associated with the ballet production. There are also excerpts from rehearsals and much other behind-the-scenes activity. All in all, this is a very interesting bonus feature since it really gives you a sense of what goes into a major ballet production.

The dancing in Swan Lake is excellent too, and again the two lead dancers stand out: Svetlana Zakharova, a principal ballerina with the Bolshoi for years, and Roberto Bolle. The remainder of the cast is also quite fine and sets and other production values are high: the visual effects in particular are quite impressive, especially in the Finale. This version of Swan Lake has a happy ending instead of the tragic denouement of the two lovers throwing themselves into the lake and dying. The Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala plays with spirit and accuracy for conductor James Tuggle whose tempo selections and shaping of the score in general are imaginative and quite sensitive to Tchaikovsky's unique melodic and rhythmic persona. The picture quality is good but not exceptional – as mentioned above, it is "upscaled" to 1080i High Definition and was thus not originally shot in true HD. Still, it's as good as many very fine videos of opera and ballet productions from major labels.

So, that's thumbs up for those two ballet productions but many potential buyers may be wary of The Sleeping Beauty because of its older aspect ratio of 4:3 and possibly inferior sonics. Thus to many, this 1989 performance would have to be a very exceptional one to compete with later more technologically advanced issues of this popular ballet. Well, I can say right off it is an exceptional effort artistically as you'll see; moreover, the sonics are quite decent for their time and if the narrower screen and so-so picture quality are a drawback, at least the camera work is very good and the production values are reasonably good considering this was originally shot for television broadcast. Once more, the lead dancers are superb: Larissa Lezhnina as the Princess and Farukh Ruzimatov as the Prince are stunning, but the rest of the cast is excellent too. The choreography, while not outstandingly imaginative or artistically fresh is consistently beguiling to the eye, especially as danced by this superior cast. Conductor Viktor Fedotov seems to know this score inside and out: he shapes the music with deft nuancing, a fine sense for instrumental balance and a seemingly unerring feel for the right tempo – Andantes are not leaden but have life and Allegros are spirited but never rushed. His orchestra is unnamed on the box and in the album booklet but is perhaps the Kirov or what is now known as the Mariinsky. Whatever the case, they play brilliantly throughout.

In the end, one must observe that all three productions, despite changes and additions to the stories, are fairly traditional in approach and, above all, very imaginative. Strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings