Monday, June 25, 2012

American Ballet Theater – Mendelssohn’s The Dream; Stravinsky’s Firebird. June 23, 2012.

Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center – Dress Circle (Seat C125, $75.)

The Dream
Choreography by Frederick Ashton
Music by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, arranged by John Lanchbery
Staged by Anthony Dowell with Christopher Carr
Sets and costumes by David Walker
Lighting design by John B. Read

Conductor – Ormsby Wilkins; Titania – Xiomara Reyes, Oberon – Cory Stearns, Puck – Herman Cornejo, Bottom – Alexei Agoudine, Helena – Marica Riccetto, Hermia – Stella Abrera, Demetrius – Sascha Radetsky, Lysander – Jared Matthewsa.

The Young People’s Chorus of New York City, Francisco J. Nunez, artistic director.
Jody Sheinbaum, solo soprano; Lindsay Bogaty, solo mezzo-soprano.

Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky
Music by Igor Stravinsky (“L’Oiseau de Feu”)
Scenery by Simon Pastukh
Costumes by Galina Solovyeva, costume consultant: Holly Hynes
Lighting by Brad Fields
Projections designed by Wendall Harrington

Conductor – Charles Barker; Firebird – Natalia Osipova, Ivan – Marcelo Gomes, Maiden – Simone Messmer, Kaschei – David Hallberg

Firebird story.  Ivan is looking for his lost love and hides when he sees a flock of firebirds.  He captures one and gets a magical feather to be used to summon the firebird when he is in danger.  A group of maidens under spell then appears, and Ivan is drawn to one of them.  As they come together the evil sorcerer Kaschei appears to harm them.  Ivan uses the feather to summon the firebird, who leads everyone to dance until they collapse.  The firebird then struggles with Kaschei, who seduces the maiden.  The firebird helps Ivan break the spell by shattering an egg that contains Kaschei’s soul and power, and Kaschei dies.  The maidens awake and are liberated.

We got a double-header today.  Both on paper should be quite interesting, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Stravinsky’s Firebird.  The cast and the conductor were different, the same orchestra performed in both ballets.

First, The Dream.  I couldn’t find any synopsis or reference to the story.  “Luckily” we saw The Enchanted Island recently, so we were somewhat familiar with the characters (although sometimes it is difficult to decide who belongs in The Dream or The Tempest.)  My conjecture is that the ballet isn’t trying to tell the whole Shakespeare story, and I found it difficult to guess what scenes were being depicted during the performance.  You know there are these two pairs of lovers who may or may not be getting married (well, the wedding march is included), you wonder what this cupid-like character (Puck, and boy, could he jump) and little child (Changeling) are doing there, and you cringe at how Mendelssohn’s music is botched in the arrangement.  To boot, the dances didn’t look all that compelling.  Perhaps ABT expects its audience knows their Shakespeare, or perhaps it thinks the staging and dances are compelling enough that no explanation is necessary, or perhaps it is just incompetent.  I probably would have trouble keeping up when I am at my sharpest; and today isn’t one of them since I just returned from Hong Kong two days ago and have not been getting enough sleep.

The Firebird worked out much better for me.  I learned from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet that a composer would extract Orchestral Suites from music he wrote for the ballet.  That tidbit came in handy today since I didn’t have to wonder why the ballet music sounded different from what I remembered of prior orchestral performances I heard.  (For the record, I did hear the complete ballet in April, 2008.)  While we are on this subject, the music for this ballet sounded much fuller than The Dream, perhaps due to its not having been tainted by the ubiquitous arranger.

The colors were certainly nice.  The costumes for the firebirds, the maidens, and Koschei evoke the appropriate images.  Anne also remarked the scenery reminds one of Chagall, who actually did the scenery and costumes by Marc Chagall.

With a story to follow, things certainly made a lot more sense.  Hallberg, whom we saw two weeks ago as Onegin, played the role of the evil Kaschei very well.  Ivan, however, didn’t leave a lasting impression, as I write this two days after the performance.

Overall, the evening had a lot of potential to showcase what great ballet can be: choreography, scenery, costumes, and music.  Despite some of the highlights, it failed.

The New York Times Review goes into great detail about The Dream, which it raves about, and pans in a few short paragraphs The Firebird, going as far as calling it “Alexei Ratmansky’s new comic psychodrama.”

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