Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Tchaikovsky The Sleeping Beauty

The Dutch National Ballet
(recorded live in at Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam 2003)

Petipa/Sir Peter Wright/Philip Prowse
Sofiane Sylve, Gael Lambiotte
Holland Symfonia/Ermanno Florio

0pus ARTE OA 0904 D [2 DVDs; approx 180 mins]

This is indeed, as promised, a sumptuous realisation of Tchaikovsky and Petipa's ever popular ballet, and the first thing to say to readers of MusicalPointers is that its remarkable score can rarely, if ever, have sounded better in a theatre performance.

Ermanio Florio paces the music with a seeming flexibility despite the constraints demanded to accompany dance and the Holland Symfonia is world class. We are told that the production is "filmed in High Definition and mixed in 5.1 Surround Sound"; we confirmed the latter, but the less than perfect sharpness on our screen at home must be due to something about our equipment, which usually has no such problem. (It seems from the Opus Arte website that High Definition may not yet be universally available.)

The revival by Sir Peter Wright (who has produced The Sleeping Beauty many times, including at Covent Garden) takes full advantage of the large stage in Amsterdam's new theatre, creating an evocation of an 18th century French court, with magnificent costumes in period fashion, and sets by Philip Prowse suggesting those seen at the Maryinsky Theatre.

The live filming gives a proper sense of tension - Sofiane Sylve wobbles just a little in the horrendously demanding Rose Adagio, and you are with her. For the most part she is in full command and portrays well the 14 year old girl bleeding for the first time, and the woman waking to fulfilment 100 years on.

Sofiane Sylve, leaving Amsterdam for New York, gives a daunting account of the unenviable sacrifice of normal life to the rigours of her profession and Sir Peter Wright, in his talks included amongst the interesting and useful Extras, gives us a perspective which enhances enjoyment considerably. He emphasises the essential classical simplicity of Petipa's concept, which he has tried to revive, albeit with dances and effects as lavish as you could wish. In rehearsal context he talks about how and why Petipa used mime in his productions, rather overstating how easily audiences are expected to follow thereby the details of the silent conversations.

An inspiring glimpse of imaginative community outreach at its best is given by Un van Ellinckhuijsen in her dance workshop. She teaches kids, many of whom had never been to a theatre, some examples of the mime conventions; we subsequently see 1,600 of them (!) practising what they'd learnt at a special matinée in the theatre - we watch them gesturing with enthusiasm and 'dancing' in their seats to Tchaikovsky's music played live by the orchestra. Wonderful!

This teaching underlines a thought which struck us whilst watching the ballet on our screen at home. Classical ballet could become far more involving for home viewers if, as provided with the Extras, and routinely now on opera DVDs, the arcane conversations in the gestures of the mime language were subtitled (in language of choice) for home viewers?

If this Opus Arte release has its anticipated and deserved success, perhaps subtitles could be added when the DVDs are re-printed?

© Peter Grahame Woolf