I had déjà vu as I was watching this DVD, and no wonder, because several important aspects of this production are identical to those of a La Scala production I reviewed two years ago (TDK DVWW-BLGISS). As before, the original choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot has been retained for this production, but this time in the 1887 restaging by Marius Petipa, and in a further adaptation by Patrice Bart and Eugène Polyakov from 1991. Also as before, the sets and costumes are from the designs of Alexandre Benois (1924), and are in the style of the original ballet, which was produced for the first time in 1841. Finally, the version presented here, like the one from La Scala, is not absolutely uncut (although it is more complete), and it includes music not by Adam at all. For example, the pas de deux in Act I for the two young peasants is by Frédéric Burgmüller, and there also is an interpolation in Act II composed by Minkus.
Given these similarities, it is surprising that TDK has released a second Giselle in such a short time. (These is nothing wrong with the first one, and Svetlana Zakharova and Robert Bolle are excellent in the lead roles.) I suspect one of the reasons for making this December 2006 performance available on DVD is the string of successes recently enjoyed by the Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris. On one DVD after another, the company has demonstrated the strength of not only its étoiles but also its premières danseurs and corps de ballet. When I receive a new DVD featuring this company, whether the ballet is traditional in style or contemporary, I expect to be astonished by both technique and artistry.
And such is the case here. The four étoiles lack nothing, in terms of technique; watching Marie-Agnès Gillot en pointe in the second act is almost like a religious experience. For the most part, these are dancers who don't call attention to their technique, however, but allow it to serve the ballet in which they are performing.
The most salient difference between the Parisian and Milanese performances is temperature. The Parisians are more Catholic than the Pope, one might say, and have given us a Giselle that is so classical that it is rather cool, even chilly. It is more difficult to become emotionally involved in the fate of the heroine, who falls in love with the peasant Loys but goes mad and dies of grief when she discovers that his true identity is Prince Albrecht, and that he is the fiancé of Princess Bathilde. In act II, after Giselle has become a Wili (something akin to a zombie, but with much better table manners), she pleads for Albrecht's life with Myrtha, the Wili Queen, and manages to save him from being Wili-ed to death. This is all very poised and interesting in the present production, but it doesn't have quite the frisson-inducing power it does at La Scala. Nevertheless, it arguably is the Paris production that is most faithful to the spirit of classical ballet in its purest form.
I would get one or the other of these productions, but not both. If you want a second Giselle in your collection, it would be better to acquire one that uses different choreography – although it looks like most if not all of the DVDs currently on the market stick with Coralli and Perrot!
Copyright © 2008, Raymond Tuttle