Russian Ballet Favourites

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Russian BalletFavourites

Gayane was conceived as a ballet in four acts and six scenes. Based, in itsoriginal version, on a libretto by Konstantin Derzhavin, it was first staged inDecember 1942 in Perm, where the Kirov Ballet had been evacuated. Choreographywas by Anasimova and decor by Natan Altman. It was restaged in Leningrad in1945 by the Kirov and in 1957 in another version by the Moscow Bolshoy. Thecomposer was awarded the Stalin Prize for his work in 1943. The ballet wasbased on an earlier work, Happiness, first produced in Yerevan in 1939, andKhachaturian re-used this music for his new score.

The music of Raymonda has proved very much more satisfactory thanthe original ballet. In 1895 the minor novelist and columnist Lydia Pashkovasubmitted her scenario to the director of the Imperial Theatres, IvanVsevolozhsky. After revision this was sent to the veteran choreographer of theImperial ballet, Marius Petipa. The work was eventually staged at the Mar?»inskyTheatre in St Petersburg in January 1898, initially with a benefit performancefor Pierina Legnani, who danced the title r??le. Sergey Legat took the premierdanseur r??le of Jean de Brienne, with Pavel Gerdt in the character r??le ofAbderakhman. Sets were designed by Orest Allegri, Konstantin Ivanov and PetrLambru and costumes by Ekaterina Ofizerova and Ivan Kaffi.

The action of the ballet is set in medieval Hungary. Raymonda isbetrothed to Jean de Brienne, a crusader, who is called away to the wars. Sheis also the object of desire to the Saracen knight Abderakhman, who plans toabduct her. The White Lady (Dame blanche), a guardian spirit of Raymonda'snoble family, appears and prevents the abduction, and Abderakhman is killed incombat by Jean de Brienne. The principal action ends with the second act. Thethird act honours the happy couple, Raymonda and Jean de Brienne, and issometimes offered now as a separate item in ballet programmes. It consists of aseries of divertissements, including the famous Pas classique hongrois.

There have been various re-stagings of Raymonda, either in itsoriginal form, or with a revised scenario and adapted choreography, withversions by Pavlova, Balanchin and Nureyev among others. Dyagilev himself tookfrom it a men's pas de quatre, with Nizhinsky, for his opening season inParis in 1909. However unsatisfactory the narrative and dramatic structure ofthe piece, it remains, in the version of the eighty-year-old Marius Petipa, aclassic of choreography, while its music has its own lasting attractions. Glazunovshared with Tchaikovsky an ability to handle the short forms that balletdemands, within a coherent wider structure. His evocative score for Raymondais immensely colourful, whether in the varied set-pieces of the first act,with its romance, its ghostly apparitions and dance of elves and goblins, or inthe character dances of the exotic second act or in the final celebrations ofthe third.

The ballet Spartacus, the score of which was completed in 1954,deals with the slave rebellion led by the hero of that name against Romandomination. The historical Spartacus himself was Thracian by birth, a shepherdwho became a robber. He was taken prisoner and sold to a trainer of gladiatorsin Capua, but in 73 B.C. he escaped, with other prisoners, and led a rebellionduring the course of which he defeated the Roman armies and caused devastationthroughout Italy. He was eventually defeated by Crassus, a general well knownfor his wealth, and put to death by crucifixion, together with his followers.

It should be added that to Karl Marx Spartacus was the first great proletarianhero, a champion of the people, while the ultimate fate of Crassus, killed in53 B.C. during the course of a campaign that had taken him to Armenia, mighthave had a particular significance for Khachaturian.

As a composer Gli?¿re followed the Russian romantic tradition, somethingthat brought him official praise in 1948 when the music of Prokofiev andShostakovich was condemned. In particular his ballet music proved popular TheRed Poppy, later known, to avoid the connotation of opium, as The RedFlower, satisfied political choreographic demands and became a well knownpart of ballet repertoire from 1926 onwards, while the later ballet TheBronze Horseman, completed in 1949, also retained its place in Sovietrepertoire.

The Red Poppy (Krasni mak), with libretto and original decor by M. Kurilkoand choreography by Lev Lashchilin and Vasily Tikhomikov, was first staged atthe Bolshoy Theatre on 14th June 1927, when Ekaterina Geltser danced Tao-Hoa andAleksey Bulgatov the heroic Captain. Set in a Chinese port, the story of theballet is simply told. The dancer Tao-Hoa falls in love with the captain of aSoviet cargo ship, to whom she gives a red poppy. Li-Shan-Fu, her manager,plots to kill the captain by having her give him poisoned tea, but she refuses.

Later, in a coolie uprising, she saves the life of the captain and is laterkilled in a coolie uprising by a bullet from Li?¡Shan-Fu. She hands a red poppyto a little Chinese girl, as she dies, a sign of love and of freedom. Scope isgiven for divertissements in the second act, a dream-sequence, set in an opiumden. Here Tao-Hoa sees a Golden Buddha, ancient goddesses, butterflies, birdsand flowers.

As a composer Prokofiev was prolific. His operas include the remarkable TheFiery Angel, first performed in its entirety in Paris the year after hisdeath, with ballet?¡-scores in Russia for Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella,after his earlier ballets for Dyagilev. The idea of a ballet on the subjectof Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was suggested to him during a visit toRussia in 1934 by Sergey Radlov, who had staged the first Russian performanceof The Love for Three Oranges in Leningrad in 1926. Radlov was artisticdirector of the Leningrad State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, which inlate 1934 became the Kirov Theatre, after the assassination of Sergey Kirov,party secretary in the Leningrad area and later a member of the Politburo. Themurder of Kirov in 1934 brought the beginning of the Great Purge and there wereswift changes in the Leningrad Theatre that led to the rejection of Prokofiev'sproposed ballet, which was then taken up by the Bolshoy in Moscow.

Prokofiev completed the piano score in a relatively short time,occupying himself with the work during the summer months of 1935 spent atTarussa, where other members of the Bolshoy Theatre had holiday accommodation.

By October he had started work on the orchestration, but when he played themusic through in Moscow to the dancers they pronounced it undanceable. Moresensibly they insisted that the happy ending that Prokofiev and Radlov hadproposed should be replaced by the original Shakespearian ending, the death ofthe lovers, an episode that Prokofiev had at first considered impossible in aballet.

In the event music from Romeo and Juliet was given concertperformance in Russia before the ballet could be staged there. The firstproduction was in December 1938 in Brno, the capital of Moravia. Thirteenmonths later it was danced at the Kirov, with Ulanova as Juliet and Sergeyev asRomeo. The choreography was by Lavrovsky, who annoyed Prokofiev by makingchanges in the score without previous consultation, a procedure very differentfrom that of the reputedly dictatorial Dyagilev, who had always discussedmatters with his composers and choreographers. The Kirov took the production toMoscow, where, in 1946, it became part of the Bolshoy repertoire. The musicprovides themes associated with the principal c
Disc: 1
Romeo and Juliet
1 Sabre Dance
2 Grande valse - Pizzicato - Reprise de la valse
3 Prelude et La Romanesca
4 Scene mimique
5 Grand adagio
6 Grand pas espagnol
7 Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia
8 Coolies' Dance
9 Phoenix - Adagio
10 Dance of the Chinese Women
11 Russian Sailors' Dance
12 Waltz
13 Polka
14 Morning Dance
15 Masks
16 Montagues and Capulets (Dance of the Knights)
17 Departure of the Guests (Gavotte)
18 Balcony Scene
19 Romeo's Variation
20 Love Dance
21 Act II Finale
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