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Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker / Royal Ballet [Blu-ray]

Tchaikovsky / Yoshida / Royal Ballet / Kessels
Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 7072  
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Koen Kessels
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden 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

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky

The Sugar Plum Fairy – Miyako Yoshida
Nephew / Nutcracker – Ricardo Cervera / Steven McRae
The Prince – Steven McRae
Drosselmeyer – Gary Avis

The Royal Ballet
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Koen Kessels, conductor

Peter Wright, choreographer and director
(after Lev Ivanov)

Recorded live at the Royal
Read more Opera House, November and December 2009.

- Cast gallery
- Rehearsing at White Lodge
- Peter Wright tells the story of The Nutcracker

Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: LPCM Stereo 2.0 / DTS 5.0
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
Running time: 127 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (BD 50)

R E V I E W:


TCHAIKOVSKY The Nutcracker Koen Kessels, cond; Iohna Loots ( Clara ); Ricardo Cervera ( Nutcracker ); Gary Avis ( Drosselmeyer ); Genesia Rosato ( Dancing Mistress ); David Pickering ( Mouse King ); Miyako Yoshida ( Sugar Plum Fairy ); Steven McRae ( Prince ); Royal Op O OPUS ARTE 1036 (DVD); OA BD7072D (Blu-ray) (127:00 Text and Translation) Live: Covent Garden 11/26 and 12/2/2009

& Rehearsing at White Lodge (10:12); Peter Wright tells the Nutcracker story (8:56)

If you are one of those who think there’s nothing new under the sun, particularly so far as The Nutcracker goes, this production will turn your world on its ear. Moreover, it is the very best Nutcracker production, and performance, I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen some good ones (Cincinnati Ballet’s classic 1970s production, elements of which were “borrowed” by ballet companies around the country; Balanchine’s not-so-classic New York production of the same decade; and Baryshnikov’s unusual but ultimately failed attempt at it in the 1980s).

Choreographer Peter Wright, now 81, has first and foremost revamped the narrative of the plot to make it more sensible and, in both plot restructuring and staging, managed to make the usually fragmented and boring act II more continuous with act I. Second, it is, in costuming and set design, both lavish and traditional, yet with numerous little touches that clearly point to an updating. And third, it is so well cast, from the principal roles down to the very last flower, mirliton, mouse, and child dancer, that it is almost mind-boggling. In short, this is as close to a perfect Nutcracker as you are likely to see in your lifetime.

It’s so good, in fact, that I must say this, it was not merely a pleasure but a privilege for me to review it. If it weren’t so obvious that every single cast member is really enjoying himself or herself in addition to being brilliant onstage, it might have been one of those cold-but-perfect experiences that continue to crop up on video, but everyone certainly looks as if they enjoy giving this performance as much as the audience enjoys watching it.

Pride of place goes to Miyako Yoshida as the Sugar Plum Fairy rather than Iohna Loots as Clara, but only because Yoshida is jaw-droppingly stunning whereas Loots is “merely” fabulous. Principal ballerina of the Royal Ballet for at least a decade, Yoshida gives here a performance on par with late-period Margot Fonteyn. There are a few very tiny breaks in form, but otherwise, she is perfect. And I mean PERFECT. I even get the impression that Loots herself enjoys watching this performance—how could she not? Yet Loots is an exceptional dancer, with outstanding entrechats and excellent form. It also helps, from the believability standpoint, that she is a very small woman with a youthful face, so it is quite easy for her to play a 14-years-old without the audience thinking, “14, my eye.” Ricardo Cervera, as her nutcracker and, later, prince, is equally outstanding. He’s the best I’ve seen in many a year, capable of extraordinary leaps, fancy footwork, and spins that put me in mind of Roman Jasinski. In the second act, he even joins the Russian dancers and takes center stage during the kazatsky!

Wright’s genius is in rethinking the entire Nutcracker plot, divorcing the first act from the shattered remnants of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story (which had been thoroughly diluted by Marius Petipa in the first place) and creating a new narrative structure into which everything fits. In Wright’s Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer had previously invented a trap for a royal household that killed off half the mouse population. In revenge, the wicked Mouse Queen cast a spell over his nephew, Hans-Peter, turning him into an ugly nutcracker doll. The only way to break the spell is for a young girl to love and care for him despite his awful appearance, and have him slay the Mouse King. In this context, Wright creates a prelude scene played out during the overture, showing Drosselmeyer in his study, looking longingly at a portrait of his cursed nephew and wrapping up the “nutcracker” as a Christmas gift for his favorite niece, Clara. In this production, Drosselmeyer forsakes the usual grotesque makeup and costuming borrowed from Hoffmann; he is older but distinguished-looking, wearing a flowing cape (which Gary Avis really knows how to throw around the stage!), performing numerous magic tricks for his family at the Christmas party (and which he pulls off splendidly), and continuing his appearance after most Drosselmeyers have disappeared for the duration. He comes out of the standing “owl clock” to direct the scene during the growing of the tree, sprinkles glitter across the stage to presage the appearance of angels (who really do appear to be floating across the stage … watch their controlled positions in these and other scenes!), and brings in the magic carriage that takes Clara and the now-transformed Hans-Peter to the second act, where Drosselmeyer puts on an entertainment to salute both of them for their bravery.

This new scenario works brilliantly and, as I said, it establishes continuity in the second act by having Cervera and Loots participate in some of the dances. Costuming and lighting are flawless, and the entire production has the quality of a dream. Not just the angels, but everyone else as well, appears to be literally floating across the stage as they move with the gossamer lighting effects and their controlled body positioning. Mother Goose is dispensed with (thank goodness). At the end, Hans-Peter puts his cloak over Clara’s bare shoulders as a keepsake, then returns to his uncle’s study—the very scene of the opening—to be embraced by the older man and bring closure to the entire production.

If you are a Nutcracker fan, or know someone who is, you MUST buy this DVD. If you are a choreographer or set designer, you must see how Wright and set designer Julia Oman work hand-in-glove to produce a masterpiece. And if you’re a dancer, you need to have this disc in your collection to watch, over and over and over again. You won’t believe your eyes at the sheer perfection of it all. Your jaw will drop, too, and you’ll understand how the usually staid Covent Garden audience goes absolutely berserk, screaming and applauding this Nutcracker —and particularly Yoshida—in a way British audiences rarely do. The bonus rehearsal sequence shows, as usual, some of the hard work behind the perfection, but also shows how Wright prods, cajoles, and encourages the children into giving their best—and, as he puts it, “for heaven’s sake, enjoy yourself!”

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Nutcracker, Op. 71 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Koen Kessels
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891-1892; Russia 

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