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Blu-ray Review

Serge Prokofieff

Mariinsky Blu-ray/DVD MAR0555

Cinderella

  • Cinderella - Diana Vishneva
  • The Prince - Vladimir Shklyarov
  • Stepmother - Ekaterina Kondaurova
  • Khudishka - Margarita Frolova
  • Kubishka - Ekaterina Ivannikova
  • Fairy-Tramp - Elena Bazhenova
  • Four Seasons:
  • Spring - Ilya Petrov
  • Summer - Anton Pimonov
  • Autumn - Maxim Zyuzin
  • Winter - Andrei Solovyov
Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Choreography - Alexei Ratmansky
Set Design - Ilya Utkin & Evgeny Monakhov
Costume Design - Elena Markovskaya
Lighting Design - Gleb Filshtinsky
Recorded Live at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia June 19, 2013
Mariinsky Blu-ray & DVD MAR0555 110m LPCM Stereo
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

Let me first point out one unusual aspect about this Mariinsky recording, in case you haven't noticed it in the heading: the album box contains both a Blu-ray and DVD disc, thus giving it a considerable advantage over competition in the video realm, because it appears to be priced not much more than a lone standard Blu-ray disc. Some web site retailers, in fact, appear to be offering it for about the same price.

Anyway, this is a rather pioneering production of Cinderella that has drawn a lot of attention since it was first presented in St. Petersburg in 2002. I've read a number of reviews of live performances of it and they have been mostly quite positive. It's easy to see why: Alexei Ratmansky, now widely regarded as the most influential choreographer in modern classical ballet, presents Prokofiev's Cinderella in very imaginative choreography and with a different take on the story. This production was his first major effort, and it served to launch his highly successful international career. Imaginative and bold it is, but it's not without its flaws.

Let me deal first with the issue of cuts, as this version of Prokofiev's ballet is missing some music, though I don't think this can be counted as a major weakness. Dancing Lesson (track 8) contains about a one-minute cut in the opening. Summer Fairy (#13 in the score) and the repeat of Court Dance (#25) are also cut, but these are not damaging deletions. The one cut that might bother Prokofiev aficionados is the elimination of the ballet's last dance, the Amoroso. Though it's a short number, it contains some of the ballet's most beautiful music, the full flowering of Cinderella's theme. In fairness, let me point out that many versions of even the most popular ballets – Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet – are typically cut (often with numbers reordered too). Ironically, audio-only recordings of these ballets are usually complete.

As mentioned above, the story is changed here too, though I believe its modern setting and plot changes are quite welcome for the most part and breathe fresh life into this age-old fairy tale. The familiar character of Cinderella remains mostly intact: she is mistreated, mainly by her stepmother, but her clumsy and inept stepsisters are no saints either. The fairy godmother is a hunched-over bag lady but with magical powers and Cinderella's father is a drunk. Cinderella meets the Prince at the ball of course, and flees at midnight, the Prince soon in pursuit. In his search for her he is tempted in the red light district by members of both genders but keeps his virtue intact. In the end, the couple are reunited and will live happily ever after, we assume.

The sets feature steel staircases on either side of the stage, a huge circular structure in the center that can serve as the ominous clock or a decorative chandelier. Though there is a lot else to the sets, much of the time there is a sort of darkish or barren look to the stage scenery, which generally makes things atmospherically effective. The costuming and makeup are imaginative, though some might view certain characters' appearance as a bit garish. For example, the stepmother, splendidly portrayed by Ekaterina Kondaurova, wears a bright orange wig, while one of the stepsisters dons a pink wig. But the look fits the cartoonish demeanor of these two nasty but colorful characters.

As for the dancers, I have already pointed out the brilliant portrayal of Ekaterina Kondaurova, who sometimes upstages Cinderella with her slapstick style of dancing at the ball and elsewhere. Some have complained that her antics and those of the stepsisters grow thin in the humor department at times, but I think they are mostly quite entertaining. A lack of both subtlety and sophistication never drove audiences from enjoying the Three Stooges, and these three in this ballet are often the Three Stooges, with the Stepmother certainly the trio's Moe. Diana Vishneva, without doubt one of the premier ballerinas before the public today, makes a very fine Cinderella. Granted, sometimes she seems overly pensive or solemn, but her sense for drama is generally excellent. More importantly, her dancing is simply superb in its gracefulness and agility. Vladimir Shklyarov as the Prince is also splendid. The rest of the cast is fine too.

As earlier suggested, the choreography is very innovative, at least much of the time. Ratmansky's later efforts have been more consistently praised, but this one is nevertheless quite fine too. Valery Gergiev, who knows Prokofiev's orchestral music about as well as anyone, gets a dynamic performance from his excellent orchestra. He fully captures the composer's deft wit, lush lyricism, fairy tale innocence and nose-thumbing sarcasm. Sound reproduction, camera work and picture clarity are all first rate. I have reviewed one other video recording of Cinderella here, a rather surrealistic, heavily cut version featuring the Lyon National Opera Ballet (Arthaus Musik DVD 100235). A better and more traditional production is to be had from Kultur/NVC Arts that features the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Elisha Willis as Cinderella. That said, this new Mariinsky version is preferable to both and overall a remarkable achievement.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings

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