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'La fille mal gardée' -
enjoyed by

'... Covent Garden at its best.'

Frederick Ashton's 'La fille mal gardée'. © 2008 Opus Arte

Ballet is joyously unregenerate. As far as I know, there is no scholarly outcry against John Lanchbery for failing to strip from Hérold all the accretions generously lent by Rossini, Donizetti, Pleyel and the rest during this ballet's progress through the nineteenth century. Still less are there any agonised laments that Lise no longer follows the steps danced by Mme Théodore at Bordeaux in 1789. That was the fatal year Jean Dauberval first produced his ballet, when Hérold had not yet been born and the heads of French monarchs still rested comparatively securely on their necks.

Some day, perhaps, we may have to endure the original music. Meanwhile we can relish this production of 1960, a year that properly concludes the previous decade rather than launches its shabby successor. Osbert Lancaster may have imagined they were toy vaches rather than cows grazing in the sloping field beyond the farmyard. His designs attempt rural France; but Frederick Ashton's village wooing is deliciously English. I could not be precise about the breed of the cock and hens which launch the ballet, but their performance suggests the best of strains.

Watch and listen -- Dance of the Cock and Hens (Act 1 Scene 1)
(chapter 3, 4:34-5:05) © 2005 BBC

The irruption of the Royal Ballet villagers gives the transvestite harridan of William Tuckett as Simone her curmudgeonly head, and just allows the young lovers of Carlos Acosta as Colas and Marianela Nuñez's Lise to play a brief game of hide and seek.

Watch and listen -- Villagers / Simone and Lise (Act 1 Scene 1)
(chapter 7, 15:58-16:47) © 2005 BBC

But the farmer and his girl come fully into their own during the virtuosity of the harvest pas de deux.

Watch and listen -- The Fanny Essler pas de deux (Act 1 Scene 2)
(chapter 17, 54:20-55:29) © 2005 BBC

Nor is Simone, as Lancastrian as my Aunt Flo, to be deprived of her birthright in a clog dance.

Watch and listen -- Clog Dance (Act 1 Scene 2)
(chapter 19, 57:02-57:38) © 2005 BBC

Dauberval died before Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, but Hérold (or maybe Rossini) undoubtedly knew it. So the storm that ends Act 1 is remarkably effective and visually quite a relief in broiling Cairo.

Watch and listen -- Storm and Act 1 Finale
(chapter 21, 62:00-63:06) © 2005 BBC

Jonathan Howells as Alain has a very rough time as Lise's would-be wooer, none rougher than when, in triumphant possession of the key to her room, he discovers to general consternation that Colas is already in it.

Watch and listen -- Consternation and forgiveness (Act 2)
(chapter 30, 91:23-92:23) © 2005 BBC

The village is thoroughly content with the outcome, and even Simone may realise that her failures as Lise's warder were all for the best.

Watch and listen -- Finale (Act 2)
(chapter 32, 101:29-102:36) © 2005 BBC

This 2005 production shows Covent Garden at its best. Individual performances on stage are enchanting, and I found myself inspired to adopt a couple of Carlos Acosta's more static poses before settling to review the bewitching skill of the principal dancers. It may well be that, while our political masters edge the country steadily towards insignificance, our artists will demonstrate that the land without music turned out to be the most musical of them all. The Royal Ballet, with the Royal Opera House orchestra under Anthony Twiner, make a powerful case.

Copyright © 29 July 2008 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt


Frederic Ashton's La fille mal gardée

OA 0992 D NTSC DVD9 16/9 Anamorphic All regions LPCM Stereo, Digital DTS Surround NEW RELEASE 112' 2005 BBC, 2008 Opus Arte

Carlos Acosta, Colas; Marianela Nuñez, Lise; William Tuckett, Simone; Jonathan Howells, Alain; David Drew, Thomas; Giacomo Ciriaci, Cockerel; Gemma Bond, Bethany Keating, Iohna Loots, Natasha Oughtred, hens; Christina Arestis, Deirdre Chapman, Lauren Cuthbertson, Cindy Jourdain, Sarah Lamb, Laura Morera, Vanessa Palmer, Christina Elida Salerno, Lise's friends; Alastair Marriott, village notary; Artists of the Royal Ballet and Students of the Royal Ballet Upper School, as villagers, harvesters and grooms; Osbert Lancaster, designs; John B Read, lighting; Alexander Grant, staging; Christopher Carr, staging assistant; The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Sergey Levitin, associate concert master; Anthony Twiner, conductor

Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833) freely adapted and arranged by John Lanchbery: La fille mal gardée. Choreography by Frederick Ashton


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