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Stravinsky & The Ballets Russes / Gergiev, Mariinsky Theatre [Blu-ray]

Stravinsky / Mariinsky Ballet / Gergiev / Losifidi
Release Date: 10/27/2009 
Label:  Bel Air Classiques   Catalog #: 441  
Composer:  Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater 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

Note: This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players, and not compatible with standard DVD players.

Also available on standard DVD

The Firebird:

Ekaterina Kondaurova (Firebird)
Ilya Kuznetsov (Ivan Tsarevich)
Marianna Pavlova (The Princess)
Vladimir Ponomarev (Kachtchei the Immortal)
Choreography & libretto: Michel Fokine (1910)
Reconstruction Isabelle Fokine, Andris Liepa
The Rite of Spring:

Alexandra Iosifidi (The Chosen One)
Elena Bazhenova (300-Year-Old Woman)
Vladimir Ponomarev (Shaman)
Choreography after Vaslav Nijinsky (1913) Read more /> Scene plan: Igor Stravinsky & Nicholas Roerich, reconstructed and staged by Millicent Hodson

Today it is difficult to imagine the impact on audiences at the beginning of the 20th century of Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929) and his Ballets Russes. In celebration of the debut of the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909, this wonderful Stravinsky evening at the Mariinsky Theatre showcases the original Nijinsky version of The Rite of Spring along with The Firebird, both conducted by Valery Gergiev.

Thanks to the relentless work of Millicent Hodson, Nijinsky's original choreography has now been recreated, performed by the lead dancers and Ballet Company of the Saint Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre conducted by Valery Gergiev, known the world over for his interpretation of Stravinsky's works.

R E V I E W:


STRAVINSKY The Firebird. Le sacre du printemps 1 & Valery Gergiev, cond; Ekaterina Kondaurova ( Firebird ); Ilya Kuznetsov ( Ivan Tsarevich ); Marianna Pavlova ( The Princess ); Vladimir Ponomarev ( Kashchei ); Alexandra Iosifidi ( The Chosen One ); 1 Elena Bazhenova ( 300-Year-Old Woman ); 1 Vladimir Ponomarev ( The Wise Elder ); 1 Mariinsky O & Ballet 1,2 BELAIR 441 (Blu-ray Disc: 85:00)

& Ballets Russes Documentary; Millicent Hodson, Kenneth Archer interviews

The Firebird and Le sacre du printemps have been staples of the orchestral repertoire for so long that it is difficult to imagine how revolutionary they were when the ballets were originally staged by Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes in 1910 and 1913. The Firebird represented a major stylistic advance especially in terms of Stravinsky’s music, but it still evolved fairly seamlessly out of the tradition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Rimsky-Korsakov’s evocative and colorful use of the orchestra. Kashchei’s Infernal Dance fits perfectly in the fantastical world of The Firebird and at the same time gives us a preview of what was to come in Le sacre du printemps. These reconstructions of the choreography of Michel Fokine ( The Firebird ) and Vaslav Nijinsky ( Le sacre du printemps ) are truly historic for ballet and music lovers because they basically recreate the sensational and scandalous premiere runs of Stravinsky’s revolutionary masterpieces. Finally, we are able to see what all of the excitement was about. A lengthy interview with Millicent Hodson (choreography) and Kenneth Archer (set and costume design) discusses the reconstruction process for Le sacre du printemps as it evolved from pictures of the original productions, critical comments, and the notes and recollections of Nijinsky’s assistant. A second brief documentary addresses the history of Stravinsky and these works at the Ballets Russes. The Firebird , with its brilliant red and orange colors, is an incredible visual treat. The gorgeous sets and costumes add almost unprecedented eye candy, like the forbidden apple tree at the center of Stravinsky’s dark and demonic sound world. Ekaterina Kondaurova is enchanting as the mystical Firebird. The amazing lighting effects make it seem like the Firebird and the apple tree are on fire as she glides around the stage en pointe . Ilya Kuznetsov is very athletic, but does little traditional dancing. Vladimir Ponomarev is a sinister and hideous Kashchei (it is fitting that I first viewed this Blu-ray disc on Halloween). Marianna Pavlova is a lovely Princess.

Le sacre is an entirely different animal. The dissonant, avant-garde (at the time of the 1913 premiere) music and primitive choreography created a virtual riot between traditionalists and modernists in the audience. It also marked the birth of contemporary ballet. No one dances en pointe here. The revolutionary footwork (compared to traditional ballet) devised by Nijinsky totally creates and supports the primitive and ritualistic subject matter of Le sacre du printemps. In contrast to the brilliant reds and oranges of The Firebird , the dominant colors are brown and yellow. The lighting and sets are more minimalist, and the ultimate effect is more about brutal force than the rich and sumptuous beauty of The Firebird. My one slight problem with this production is the camerawork. The frequent close-ups and switching back and forth from close-ups to full stage views are choppy and detract from the overall effect in Le sacre . There are some overhead views that are utilized probably in an attempt to demonstrate the geometric patterns of the dancing in Le sacre, but they don’t really work and are totally irrelevant to the audience’s vantage point. More of a straightforward camera approach would probably have worked better, but it is easy to appreciate any attempt to match the visual impact of Stravinsky’s music. The Sacrificial Dance by Alexandra Iosifidi as The Chosen One is not beautiful, but there is no denying its dramatic power.

Despite the stunning costumes, visual, and lighting effects, Valery Gergiev is the elemental force behind these performances. His conducting of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker is heavy handed and ineffective, but no one has ever penetrated the soul of Stravinsky’s music like Gergiev. The percussion, especially the timpani and bass drum, are overwhelming in their impact. I might add that the same is true when Gergiev performs The Firebird and Le sacre du printemps with the Mariinsky Orchestra in the concert hall.

All of this is dependent on the technical wonders of this Blu-ray disc. The picture is stunning in its clarity and dimensionality. The deeply saturated colors of the costumes and sets are gorgeous. The high-resolution surround sound is nearly unbelievable: the best I have heard so far on a Blu-ray disc. This is indeed a historic release. No one with any remote interest in Stravinsky, ballet, or Blu-ray technology should be without it.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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Works on This Recording

Le sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911-1913 
Firebird by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Russia 

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