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Minkus: La Bayadere / Zakharova, Bolle, Teatro La Scala

Minkus / Zakharova / Bolle / Brusson / Hewison
Release Date: 04/24/2012 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 107301  
Composer:  Léon Fyodorovich Minkus
Conductor:  David Coleman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MINKUS La Bayadère David Coleman, cond; Svetlana Zahkarova ( Nikiya ); Roberto Bolle ( Solor ); Isabelle Brusson ( Gamzatti ); Bryan Hewison ( High Brahmin ); Mick Zeni ( Magdaveya ); Francisco Sedeno ( Raja Dugmanta ); Antonino Sutera ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Bronze Idol ); La Scala Ballet Corps & 0 TDK BLLBSC (DVD 126:00) Live: Milan 5/13/06

In November 2006, TDK released the 1991 Royal Ballet production of La Bayadère as a midpriced DVD. This new release on TDK, at full price, is a 2006 staging from La Scala. Both use the Lanchbery arrangement of Minkus’s score, both use the sets by Pier Luigi Samaritani, costumes designed by Yolanda Sonnabend, and both feature choreography by Natalia Makarova (after Marius Petipa). The difference between the two productions is in the details. There are some minor changes in the sets and costuming, and some variations in the acting and performances between the two casts. The most readily apparent differences are technical. The Royal Ballet is full screen (4:3), whereas the La Scala comes to us in 16:9 widescreen. The newer La Scala also features a picture that is much sharper and clearer. I had the advantage of watching these two videos more-or-less simultaneously (two DVD players connected to the same television). Sometimes I preferred the full screen, at other times the wide screen; solo material benefited more from full screen, the wide screen did a better job presenting the dancers when spread across the stage. The brief snippets of close-ups were disruptive in both videos. What were the television directors at La Scala thinking when they interrupted Isabelle Brusson’s spectacular multiple fouettés with a close-up of her head spinning? Both videos try to embellish the final scene when the temple is destroyed with gimmicky camerawork. I found it to be busy and fussy, and it left me wondering what the audiences actually saw. The storyline is provided on both videos as subtitles before each scene. The Royal Ballet’s titles are in English, La Scala’s in Italian.

The difference between the casts is negligible. The dancing, as should be expected from two world-class companies, is excellent; the personalities vary slightly. Solor is described as “the noblest and bravest warrior in the land.” Irek Mukhamedov (Royal Ballet) is a bit closer to this hyperbole than Roberto Bolle (La Scala), but Bolle’s charm and boy-next-door good looks give Solor warmth and personality. On the other hand, Darcey Bussell (Royal Ballet) is a more vulnerable Gamzatti than Isabelle Brusson (La Scala). Bussell gives the character a nuance of fragility that adds some dimension to the role. The High Brahmin is a pantomime role. Mostly the character walks around looking stiff and noble with his hands flat against his breast. Both Anthony Dowell (Royal Ballet) and Bryan Hewison (La Scala) manage to inject some character and humanness into the role.

If you have never seen La Bayadère or read reviews of these videos, let me briefly describe it as a late-19th-century costume-and-story work with a tuneful score. Thanks to the second act (the Kingdom of the Shades), it can also be classified as a “White Ballet” because of the abundance of white tutus. The most memorable moment in La Bayadère is the simple but highly effective entrance of the shades, a repeated series of arabesque penchées as each member of the female corps enters and descends a ramp. It is considered one of Petipa’s great achievements. The work was originally conceived in four acts, the Lanchbery-Makarova production is in three. Nureyev also choreographed a production that is featured in a video on the Kultur label. I have not seen it, but advertising tells us that it is a “fully restored version of Petipa’s original ballet” and filmed at the Palais Garnier in Paris.

Makarova’s version is a handsome production. All of the elements—choreography, set design, costuming, music—work together to create an enjoyable and often thrilling night at the ballet. Although there is a noticeable difference in the visual aspects of the two Makarova Bayadère s, the sound quality is nearly the same, and the pacing and tempos are quite similar. I liked this ballet when I first discovered it on laser disc in the early 1990s; I enjoyed meeting it again when the DVD was issued in 2006, and liked it all the more with the sharp, clear picture on this new La Scala video. The plot is reasonably clear through the action, but the subtitles are only helpful if you read Italian; otherwise, the booklet provides a chapter-by-chapter outline of the story. No bonus or extra features are included. If you’ve been following the careers of Roberto Bolle and Svetlana Zahkarova, this DVD will give you further opportunity to see what all the excitement is about.

FANFARE: David L. Kirk
Reviewing original TDK release

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Works on This Recording

La Bayadere by Léon Fyodorovich Minkus
Conductor:  David Coleman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; Russia 

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