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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Il Trovatore at the Met

Il Trovatore at the Met last night on paper should have been a rather dull night. David McVicar's production is on its third tired revival in three years. The Met is alternating casts and I saw the B-cast. Enrico Caruso once said that all you need for Il Trovatore is "the four greatest singers in the world" --not exactly what comes to mind when you read a playbill that says: Guanqun Yu (Leonora), Gwyn Hughes-Jones (Manrico), Dolora Zajick (Azucena) and Angel Odena (di Luna). Zajick's Azucena is of course a well-known portrayal but the other three were completely unknown to me.

The evening overall was a pleasant surprise. The Leonora was probably the chief reason for the evening's relative success. Guanqun Yu has a lovely, well-produced, fairly large lyric soprano voice that she uses with taste and refinement. I could quibble that she doesn't have much of a trill, the coloratura is gingerly attacked, and her low notes are kind of inaudible, but they are outweighed by the positives. All she's lacking is that bit of individuality in both singing style and acting -- right now she is in both demeanor and voice sort of a conservatory singer. Very clean, very pretty, a little dull. But with time and experience I'm sure she'll develop more of a presence. But it's just a pleasure to hear such a sweet voice. She also has fairly good dramatic instincts -- she eschewed some of the more frantic stage business in the original production for a more dignified, aristocratic take on Leonora. This is a promising debut.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

NYCB's Strong Finish

The NYCB's fall season has been beset with injuries and absences (Mearns for the whole season, Bouder for most of the season, Somogyi perhaps never coming back, Whelan scaling down her repertoire), but the great thing about the NYCB is that one star goes out, and very often, another star is born. Peter Martins drew on his well of talented corps and soloists to create an overall excellent season.

Yesterday's programs showed the NYCB doing what they do best -- presenting a variety of both modern and classic ballets that showed off the depth of the company's talent.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bolshoi's La Sylphide


My last memory of La Sylphide was the Royal Danish Ballet's transcendent performance during their tour to NYC last year. I thought nothing could erase those memories, but this morning the Bolshoi Ballet proved once again that they are the ballet company that can indeed dance everything. Thirty years ago, they probably would have looked completely lost in the Bournonville style, but today they were absolutely wonderful.

The production is by Johan Kobborg, himself trained at the Royal Danish Ballet. He's now a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet but he's staged his very orthodox La Sylphide for several companies. He deserves credit for obviously coaching the Bolshoi dancers to drop their "Russian-isms" and adapt to the more modest, low-key Bournonville style. Gone for the most part were the darting diagonal grande jetes -- they were replaced with the Bournonville style jumps which tend to travel in an arc around, rather than across the stage. The arms were kept low except for those thrilling moments when they are raised triumphantly in tight fifth position. Even the mime (a traditional Bolshoi weakness) was clearly articulated.

The principal dancers were on the whole excellent. Ekaterina Krysanova was on the serious side for a Sylph in Act One, but her light airy jumps and beats were a delight to watch. You could understand why James was so entranced with this spirit. Vyacheslav Lopatin as James was technically faultless, but dramatically I found him to be sort of wrong. James is supposed to be much moodier and introspective than Lopatin made him -- Lopatin seemed to have walked in from Coppelia. There was none of the visible restlessness and dissatisfaction that the Danes so clearly spelled out last year in their performances.

Denis Savin as Gurn in contrast actually projected more romantic angst. Anna Rebetskaya was a lovely Effie, and played exactly right -- pretty but a bit shallow, and a great foil for the ethereal, alluring Sylph. I also liked Irina Zibrova's Madge. Zibrova is a beautiful lady and she introduced an element of frustrated sexuality in her portrayal. This Madge acts like a jealous, jilted lover towards James. In the final moments of the ballet, as James is lying prostrate on the floor, Zibrova lifted up her skirts to reveal just enough thigh, and walked off in triumph. Hell hath no fury ...

The Bolshoi corps as usual were remarkable -- they excelled both in the Scottish character dancing in Act One and the great ballet blanc of Act Two. I thought they'd have trouble with Bournonville's lightning fast petit batterie but they didn't. They really are a company in amazing shape currently.

It seems like this ballet is never done enough, even though it's never been out of the repertoire. Every time I watch it I marvel at the beauty of Lovenskiold's score, and the richness of Bournonville's choreography.