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Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake / Paris Opera Ballet [Blu-ray]

Tchaikovsky / Letestu / Martinez / Nureyev / Pahn
Release Date: 07/29/2008 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 7001  
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Vello Pähn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
Blu-ray Video:  $39.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

*** This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players and not compatible with standard DVD or HD DVD players. ***

Also available on standard DVD

Odette / Odile: Agnès Letestu
Le Prince Siegfried: José Martinez
Wolfgang / Rothbart: Karl Paquette
La Reine: Muriel Hallé

Paris Opera Ballet
Paris Opera Orchestra
Vello Pähn, Musical Director

Rudolf Nureyev, Stage Director

Recorded live at the Palais Garnier, Paris in December 2005

Picture format: 16:9
Sound format: Dolby Surround / LPCM Stereo
Read more code: 0 (All Regions)
Menu Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 146 minutes


TCHAIKOVSKY Swan Lake Vello Pähm, cond; Agnès Letestu ( Odette/Odile ); José Martinez ( Siefgried ); Karl Paquette ( Wolfgang/Rothbart ); Muriel Hallé ( Queen ); Paris Op O & Ballet BBC/ OPUS ARTE 966 (DVD: 141:28) Live: Paris 2005

As a choreographer, Rudolf Nureyev frequently took liberties with the classic ballets. Some of his ideas were inspired, others were controversial. Some worked better than others. His Nutcracker is not an improvement over the traditional, but his Swan Lake , for the most part, works. This Paris production is not the first Swan Lake Nureyev choreographed. An abridged production with the Wiener Staatsopernballett, starring Nureyev and Fonteyn, was filmed in the mid 1960s. It is closer to the traditional plotting than this Paris version, in which he’s taken some liberties with the details of the story and the assignment of dances. The male roles, principals and corps, have been expanded and brought into prominence, especially the role of Rothbart. The stars of this production are the trio: Odette/Odile, Siegfried, and Rothbart. (The essay in the booklet offers some interesting psychological/sexual interpretations regarding these changes.)

What is unclear, however, is the dual personality of Rothbart. In the first act he is identified as Wolfgang, the tutor. Presumably he’s a dance instructor, which is the only tutelage Siegfried receives. Siegfried’s a quick learner, by the way! Wolfgang hovers around Siegfried and seems to be the kind of friend you never want to have. In the second act (the first two acts are tied together and presented without intermission) the character is now Rothbart the magician, his traditional role. His role in act III is unclear. Is he Wolfgang or Rothbart? Are the two characters the same person? If so, which is the disguise? Or is it simply one dancer playing two roles, like Odette/Odile? The synopses—in the on-screen subtitles or the narrated bonus event—do not clarify this confusion. But, having Rothbart raised to principal status fully integrates the character into the story line, rather than maintaining his usual subordinate role where he makes brief appearances, causes mischief, and flaps his wings.

A brief scene is added to the ballet during the prelude. Siegfried is found sleeping in a chair and his dream is staged for the audience’s edification. A young woman, Odette, is captured by the evil magician Rothbart, transformed into a swan, and both float up to the loft. (The La Scala production with Roberto Bolle and Svetlana Zahkarova, TDK, opens with a similar scene.) The female corps exits early (presumably to change into their swan costumes), leaving the men to finish the first act, turning the birthday party into a bachelor party. The predominately all-male end to the first act contrasts nicely with the predominately all-female second act. Nureyev has retained some of the key Petipa/Ivanov choreography, such as the famous “Danse de cygnes,” but his personal contributions are clearly abundant, especially in the duets between the leading men. The act IV finale is not the usual uniting of the lovers forever after. As in L’incoronazione di Poppea , virtue is not triumphant!

José Martinez and Agnès Letestu are frequently paired at the Paris Ballet. Both are billed as Étoiles , while Karl Paquette is designated Premier danseur . The dancing in this production is superb. There is technical brilliance combined with a dramatic alertness that is hard to resist. The coda in act III with the famous multiple fouettés is shared by both of the star dancers, each contributing to the excitement. Rothbart gets a brief, but impressive solo near the end of the third act.

TV director Francois Roussilon is too intent on showing us what he can do and thereby occasionally distracts us from the work he’s filming. He has too many cameras at his disposal and endeavors to show us the dancing from multiple angles, bouncing back and forth, back and forth, including shots from the fly loft. The choreography, especially those dances for the full company, is wonderfully captured with the aerial shots; it’s the frequency of mingling the images from different angles that disrupts the viewer’s attention. Roussilon gets it right during most of the big solos, when the camera captures and remains on the dancer. Most perplexing are the innumerable close-ups of various dancers’ hands. Their hands ! Perhaps this is a misguided attempt at artiness. The clarity and color values of the picture are excellent.

The sets and costumes are a mixed bag. Of course the swans are clad in the de rigueur white tutus, which contrast dramatically with the black stage floor. The costumes in the first and third acts are magnificent and colorful. On the other hand, the scenery is what Beverly Sills once referred to as “the dreaded unit set,” a basic construction that has to serve, with minor alterations, for each locale. There isn’t much to it. Six steps span the rear of the stage, two pairs of legs edged with pilasters flank the left and right sides of the stage. Painted backdrops appear above the stairs. The scenery works best for the first and third acts, but not for the scenes by the lake.

There is an abundance of Swan Lake videos currently available. Some have been in circulation for some time; some are recent entries. Famous dancers, past and present, are represented in these productions, as are the talents of numerous choreographers. I’ve seen videos of Swan Lake from the Bolshoi, Kirov, Royal Ballet, La Scala, London Festival, the Wiener Staatsopernballett, and now the Paris Ballet. No two are alike; and there are many aspects of each to admire. If you chose this DVD over the competition, you will most likely not be disappointed. Not that it is necessarily better, but it definitely ranks with the best of them. Nureyev’s ideas are interesting, the dancing is spectacular, the acting and involvement between the cast members is convincing, the wide-screen picture and the digital sound are excellent.

FANFARE: David L. Kirk Reviewing DVD version
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Works on This Recording

Swan Lake, Op. 20 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Vello Pähn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875-1876; Russia 

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