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Perfectly Cast

The Sleeping Beauty -
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'... utterly enchanting ...'

The Sleeping Beauty. © 2008 Opus Arte

Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty (1890), with its distinguished symphonic compositional style, stands as his greatest triumph among three scores for the dance; the other, more episodic creations, Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

Petipa's choreography for The Sleeping Beauty was similarly inspired; its highlights including the entrance of Aurora, the ensuing Rose Adagio, the great Vision Scene, the Bluebird pas de deux and the final Grand pas de deux. For the prima ballerina, Petipa created an essentially lyrical choreographic style.

Watch and listen -- Scène dansante (Prologue)
(chapter 3, 6:28-7:35) © 2007 BBC, 2008 Opus Arte

Thirteen years separate the BBC/Royal Opera House live production (2006) and the last Royal Ballet performance of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty (1993) to find its way onto DVD.

Both films follow Marius Petipa's original choreography (with additional choreography by Anthony Dowell) though the Royal Opera House Orchestra was conducted by Barry Wordsworth for the earlier production and Valery Ovsyanikov (guest conductor with the Mariinsky Theater Ballet in St Petersburg) directs the Royal Opera House Orchestra in the present production.

Note that in 2007, Wordsworth began his second tenure as music director of the Royal Ballet, based at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

The DVD under review has Alina Cojocaru (born 1981 in Bucharest) as Princess Aurora while Federico Bonelli (born in Genoa) dances Prince Florimund. In the 1993 film the principals are (respectively) Viviana Durante (born 1967, Rome) and Zoltan Solymosi (born 1967, Budapest).

Alternatively, Sleeping Beauty was choreographed and staged by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa and restaged by Patricia Ruanne; a version, created for Paris Opera Ballet (1989), recorded at the Opéra Bastille (1999 Warner Music Vision DVD). Its new sets and costumes were created by Nureyev's faithful collaborators, Ezio Frigerio and Franca Squarciapino. Aurélie Dupont appeared as Princess Aurora and Manuel Legris as Prince Florimund, with the Orchestre De L'Opéra National De Paris conducted by David Coleman. The director was Pierre Cavassilas.

The 12 December 1955 black and white telecast of Sadler's Wells production focused on the revered Margot Fonteyn with somewhat wooden partner, patrician Michael Somes; no longer among the recommendable, though it also featured the stunning prima ballerina Beryl Grey and ever-reliable Frederick Ashton (Video Artists International).

Today's ballet enthusiasts can hardly go wrong for Cojocaru, Durante and Dupont are each superb as Princess Aurora and Christopher Carr (Royal Ballet, 2006), Anthony Dowell (Royal Ballet, 1993) and Patricia Ruanne (Paris Opera Ballet, 1989) are sterling producers. Having said that, the disappointing, some might say 'ugly', sets for the earlier Royal Ballet production eliminate it.

Watch and listen -- Finale (Act II)
(chapter 34, 1.26:32-1.27:30) © 2007 BBC, 2008 Opus Arte

So we return to our present release with perfectly cast principals: Alina Cojocaru (Princess Aurora) and Federico Bonelli (Florimund). Here we have appropriately muted costuming, sets and lighting without the garish excesses of some other high profile productions. The superbly contained 'Vision' (Act Two) is utterly enchanting with soloists and the corps de ballet in perfect accord. This is a momentous, full-length, classic presentation of Petipa's enduring choreography; it avoids the unjustified 1993 innovations: most notably a bizarre, egregious staircase cobbled together for Dowell's staging. Instead, traditional fabled imagery beguiles the eye.

Furthermore Argentinian Marianela Nuñez is a glittering, magical Lilac Fairy like a humming bird in flight. In 2000, aged eighteen, Nuñez was awarded her first big promotion in true fairytale style. Sir Anthony Dowell came to her just after a gala performance of the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux with Cuban principal Carlos Acosta. Without further ado he awarded her a First Soloist's contract, jumping two categories -- First Artist and Soloist -- in the normal promotion ladder.

To sum up -- most surely an indispensible aquisition for the DVD library of all those who admire the traditions of Diaghilev's Ballet Russe, Balanchine's New York City Ballet, the Mariinsky and Bol'shoi.

Watch and listen -- Pas de deux -- Variations I (Act III)
(chapter 47, 1.55:53-1.57:15) © 2007 BBC, 2008 Opus Arte

Valery Ovsyanikov and the Royal Opera House Orchestra are alive to every nuance in Tchaikovsky's magnificent score and the entire performance -- maître de ballet, dancers, conductor and musicians -- can be justifiably proud of their (2006) Sleeping Beauty, created to mark the 75th anniversary of the company.

Finally, a personal note -- would that we had a visual record of Beryl Grey's purity of line, superb musicality and technical mastery in her radiant début as Princess Aurora for the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) in June 1946. Arnold Haskell, the then doyen of ballet authors and critics said: 'Beryl Grey in The Sleeping Beauty gives one of the greatest displays of pure lyrical beauty I have seen.'

Grey was just nineteen. The famous story goes that in 1937, ten year old Beryl auditioned for the Vic-Wells Ballet School (now Royal Ballet School), the ballet teacher assessing her called Vic-Wells principal, Ninette de Valois, saying 'I think you had better come and look at this child, Miss de Valois.' To Dame Ninette's query 'What's wrong with the child?', the agitated teacher replied 'She can do everything, that's what's wrong!' She had already made the Lilac Fairy from the same ballet her own. ('Surely there has never been a more gracious and commanding Lilac Fairy?' -- Dame Ninette de Valois)

In 1957, after sixteen years with the Royal Ballet, Grey left Covent Garden to begin an international career as guest artist. Grey (aged 81) holds numerous honorary doctorates. She was awarded the CBE for services to dance in 1973 and created a Dame of the British Empire in 1988. She has been vice president of the Royal Academy of Dancing since 1980, is president of the Imperial Society of Dancing and a director of The Birmingam Royal Ballet. In September 1997 she was presented with the Queen Elizabeth Coronation Award by Dame Antoinette Sibley. The Award is given by the Royal Academy of Dancing to individuals in recognition of great contribution to the world of ballet.

Copyright © 1 January 2009 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand




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