Giselle, first performed in 1841, is the archetypal classical ballet. The eponymous heroine is an innocent peasant girl who is courted by, and falls in love with, an attractive stranger named Loys, actually Duke Albrecht of Silesia in disguise. She also is loved by Hilarion, a gamekeeper in Giselle's village. When Hilarion discovers that Albrecht is already engaged to the Princess Bathilde, he exposes Albrecht's dishonesty. Giselle goes mad, stabs herself, and dies. In the second act, Giselle has become one of the Wilis, ghostly maidens who died before they were married. Ruled by Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, they kill faithless bridegrooms by luring them into joining their fatal dance. Hilarion succumbs to the Wilis, but Giselle, still in love with Albrecht, successfully intercedes for him, and, as the sun rises behind her headstone, she bids him a final adieu.
The original choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot has been retained for this production, "restaged" by Florence Clerc (a protégé of Nureyev), and with "choreographic restaging" by Yvette Chauviré, a famous Giselle of the past. The sets and costume design are by Alexsandr Benois, but in the style of the original ballet. In other words, this is a very conservative Giselle, and it will please those who value ballet's history and traditions. It should be noted, however, that this production is somewhat cut, although that too is "traditional" for Giselle – and I believe that some of the numbers have been moved around. The pas de deux in Act One for the two young peasants was not composed by Adam but by Frédéric Burgmüller, and there also is an interpolation composed by Minkus in Act Two. (To perform Giselle note-complete with all repeats and traditional interpolations would take more than two hours, not including intermission.) This production was filmed live at La Scala in April 2005.
Svetlana Zakharova, a fantastic dancer visiting from the Bolshoi Ballet, is a touching Giselle, very emotional within the stylistic boundaries established by this production. Throughout Act Two she seems perfectly weightless, and she makes the impossible look easy. Technically and interpretively, this is an ideal performance. Italian dancer Roberto Bolle, with his gorgeous looks, is no less impressive. (He is a regular member of the La Scala company.) He dances the role of Albrecht with passion, and his regret in Act Two is palpable – one senses that he is willing to let the Wilis dance him to death in revenge for his thoughtless treatment of Giselle. (There's an earlier DVD of him in Giselle, but dancing the role of the Young Peasant in Act One, so be careful about which one you are buying.) Marta Romagna's weirdly, coldly beautiful Myrtha also is a standout. The La Scala corps is on top form, particularly in the second act, where the female dancers, with their perfect synchrony and stylized attitudes, evoke the 19th Century and the era of Grisi to perfection. Coleman leads the orchestra in an effective performance, without calling attention to himself.
The picture (Anamorphic Widescreen) and the sound (the three usual formats) are everything they need to be. There is no bonus material, but you'll still be getting your money's worth with this DVD. By the way, Zakharova and Bolle dance together in a Swan Lake, also available from TDK. That looks like it is worth checking out as well.
Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle