One of the highlights of Swan Lake, if indeed highlights can be plucked from such a Masterpiece, has to be the Dance of the Little Swans from Act II.
Prince Siegfried has arrived at an enchanted lake deep in the forest where he sees Odette and the other swans in the moonlight but cannot bring himself to raise his bow to slay any of them. As he watches he sees some young swans swim out onto the lake, surrounded and protected by the older ones.
The young swans want to appear as beautiful and elegant as the older ones who swim so protectively around them but they still need to huddle together for support and comfort as they perform their half elegant half awkward dance before trying to take flight from the lake. But alas they can’t spread their wings as they are too young and like all the other swans they are under the spell of the sorcerer Von Rothbart which keeps them confined to their earthly avian beauty.
The dance of the Little Swans was added to the 1895 revision of Swan Lake which is the version mostly performed today and is for obvious reasons a ballet school favourite. It is also the source of some rather humorous….interpretations!
The Royal Moscow Ballet tour Swan Lake in Ireland in March with five dates.
Vey excited at getting my tickets to the Royal Moscow Ballet who visit Ireland for five performances of Swan Lake in March. There are a number of versions of Swan Lake and there is a happy ending version and a sad ending one to confuse things even further. The sad ending where Odette and Siegfried break Von Rothbart’s spell by proving their true love in death was considered to have mystical and religious overtones by the soviet regime so a happy ending was created with the true love and the spell breaking but not the death. The version most performed today is the 1895 version but with the happy ending.
Swan Lake is probably one of the most beautiful spectacles you will ever see and although I have seen a number of recorded versions I have never been to a live production. Of the versions recorded on DVD I recommend one by The Royal Swedish Ballet recorded at The Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 2002 and released by the BBC & Opus Arte. This is a full, traditional, classical version….sublime.
Swan Lake has what is considered to be the most difficult role for a ballerina in the repertoire not least because the lead ballerina must play two roles, that of Odette and Odile who are meant to be diametrically opposed characters, the famous White Swan/Black Swan, and as such requite different dancing techniques and dramatisations. Swan lake also has the famous 32 fouettés performed by Odile in Act 3 where the audience and I dare say the whole cast wish the ballerina on to the end successfully.
While accepting that opera is essentially a live art form, a lot of performances nowadays are being recorded to extend the experience beyond the immediate audience and allow those who cannot attend for financial or geographical reasons to have a sense of the live experience.
Cecelia Bartoli & Gino Quilico in Rossini’s comic classic.
I have a small collection of DVD’s which started a number of years back with a performance of ‘The Barber of Seville’ featuring Cecelia Bartoli as Rosina and Gino Quilico in the title role.
The Barber is such wonderful introduction to Opera, awash with great tunes and bursting with comic scenes. Still to this day probably my favourite opera and of course Cecilia Bertoli in this production is a mesmerising Mezzo who can do justice to Rossini’s requirement for vocal gymnastics.
Don’t mess with Diana Damrau
But pride of place in my DVD collection has to go to the recording of David McVicars production of Mozarts ‘Die Zauberflöte’ from The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2003. Simon Keenlyside is wonderful as Papageno but this production is remembered for German soprano Diana Damrau’s performance as The Queen of the Night. An absolute jaw dropper that had me glued to the screen and a regular visitor to youtube ever since for regular top ups. I can’t recommend the recording of this production highly enough, it is stunning.
In a recent article in The Guardian, artistic directors of seven UK opera houses were asked why Opera matters and while most of the answers mentioned the cultural significance, the artistic importance, the creativity, the wonderful singing and musical talent not to mention the sheer enjoyment of the live performance, I found the response from Oliver Mears, artistic director of Opera Northern Ireland, most interesting.
His reply opens with ‘Opera is important because it is totally unfeasible’ and he proceeds to articulate the impracticality of opera. The demands it makes on music, singing, staging, acting etc… the financial cost and the complexity of this most illogical of art forms.
But by doing this he points out the very reasons why Opera should be supported and encouraged and why its presence should be vital to any community with an artistic sensibility. Opera is a tangible expression of the human spirit. In its very ‘lack of deference to economic realities’ to quote Mears, lies its human, emotional and artistic importance. In its very illogicality lies its achievement.
Giselle Allen as Senta and Bruno Caproni as The Dutchman
My first live introduction to Wagner was Oliver Mears production with Opera Northern Ireland http://www.niopera.com of ‘The Flying Dutchman’ in the Grand Opera House, Belfast in 2013 to mark the bicentenary of Wagner’s birth. Wagner can be a difficult and inaccessible at the best of times but Mears production was a joy to watch and a wonderful introduction to Wagner.