Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (Royal Ballet)
IntroductionIn 2009, various incarnations of Peter Wright's production of Tchaikovsky's arguably most popular ballet had been in the repertoire of the Royal Ballet for 25 years, and this recorded performance (filmed over 2 nights last year) marks the end of Mikayo Yoshida's 25 year stint as a dancer within the company, and is a very fine tribute to her artistry.
The ballet itself has had a chequered history, being almost completely dismissed soon after its inception as 'plotless' and so almost sunk without trace. As with many musical works however, tastes change, and whether it was because of Tchaikovshy's own selection of the music which he turned into the 'Nutcracker Suite', or George Balanchine's seminal 1950s production becoming the 'must see' ticket in the US, the work has now become the most 'Christmassy' of theatrical events and can be seen live at that time of the year almost everywhere.
The Royal Ballet's productions are no exception, and are generally sold out as soon as they're publicised.
This is Opus Arte's third DVD of the work, although I've only seen two, the other being reviewed here. At the time of writing I have no idea whether it is the same, albeit earlier, version of Wright's production, or a different animal altogether, and so unfortunately I can't make any comparisons.
The story (which can change quite dramatically in different versions) appears to be far closer to E.T.A. Hoffmann's original than the San Francisco production, in that there is more emphasis on the fact that Drosselmayer's nephew was turned into the eponymous character following his uncle's rather too successful attempt at mice catching earlier on in his career. This isn't such a bad thing, as it makes the story a little darker, as many Christmas tales, even with happy endings, should be.
Sound and VisionBoth audio tracks are prefectly fine, but if you can access the DTS then do so, as it brings out the orchestral sound wonderfully, and as I've often mentioned in ballet reviews, the music doesn't need to be tempered in any way.
Visually, there is also no problem, although perhaps because of the production's age, some of the set appears a little 'drab', yet when the more striking costume colours appear (as they often do) the effect is very satisfying.
On the disc there are two short films, both featuring the choreographer, Peter Wright, and the children of the Royal Ballet School, which is based in Richmond Park. Here, we see the young dancers rehearsing for what is an incredibly challenging task for them all, and they're treated like professionals and expected to act and perform as professionals, which is really the only way to go. In the second film, it's as if Wright has become their favourite granddad, telling them the story of the ballet (as he sees it) and you suddenly realise how young some of these performers are.
In the booklet, there is an informative essay on the creation of, and reaction to the original ballet by Roland John Wiley.
So, yet another Nutcracker hits the shelves, and the more there are, the better each one has to be unless they want to risk falling by the wayside. Of course, none of them are going to be absolutely perfect as the whole point of live performance is that there are going to be problems here and there but as long as the whole is greater than the parts then all is well.
This Royal Ballet version just about makes it into the multiple-viewings bracket.
Musically, Koen Kessels keeps things moving along nicely for the most part, and then we come up against a painfully slow section (with the Arabian Dance being a prime example) which needs a good kick up the backside to stop the attention from waning.
The orchestra play well, agin, for the most part, but there are some scrappy moments in the violas just after Drosselmayer does his magic tricks in Act I and the trumpets seemed to find it dificult playing very quietly on the evening of the recording.
I always enjoy a good battle between toy soldiers and oversized mice, and the children do a fine job here, with almost boundless energy. It's a shame the demise of the Mouse King wasn't as funny and/or violent as it could have been.
As for the grown up dancers, there's very little to complain about.
Using the more experienced Iohna Loots as the 15 year-old Clara was a wise move, as the part demands a lot more skill than many younger dancers have and she throws herself into the role magnificently, with Ricardo Cervera equally as impressive in the Nutcrasker / Nephew part.
Gary Avis as Drosselmayer seems to relish the cloak-sweeps and underlying darkness the character takes on and he seems to tower over many of the other characters.
Miyako Yoshida shows why she has been at the forefront of the dancing over all the years she was a member of the company and her Sugar Plum Fairy is one of the sweetest and attention-grabbing you will see and her partnership with Stephen McRae as the Prince (looking and dancing the part with equal amounts of power and grace) is a touching one.
The 'Characteristic Dances' are fun, with the exception of the aforementioned Arabian Dance, and it's good to see Wright's choreography bringing in the two main characters as they join in the entertainment. Cervera's Russian dancing is particularly impressive.
The audience obviously thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and if you're in the right mood, and not being too picky - as perhaps I have been, then you will most likely do so too, but it would be worth investing in the San Francisco DVD as well, just to see how much fun could be had, both onstage and as an observer.