sat 08/08/2020

BBC Proms: Swan Lake, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Gergiev | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms: Swan Lake, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Gergiev

BBC Proms: Swan Lake, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Gergiev

Listening to a ballet without its pictures frees the original composition

Valery Gergiev: he conducts ballets with his eyes determinedly shut, I think© Chris Christodoulou/BBC

The fact that the world’s most popular ballet score had never, until last night, been performed in full at the Proms says something about the lowly regard in which musical circles long held composition for ballet. The fact that the Albert Hall’s capacity audience bayed six times for Valery Gergiev’s return to take their appreciation of his and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra’s performance of it last night says something about it being about time that musical circles stopped being so snobby.


A fascinating perspective, Ismene. I think you're quite right that the music speaks transcendence and triumph at the end, by which time the swan theme has moved from its frail beginnings on oboe against harp and strings, and in the minor, to full orchestra, fortissimo. and in the major. Quite a few folk seem to have been misled into thinking that the end has been tampered with too - it hasn't, though it's been a bit cut. I just think it was a shame Gergiev bypassed the chance to present the last act in concert as Tchaikovsky seamlessly wrote it - and his last, melancholy swans's dance, which we just didn't get, is a much finer piece of music than any of the Op. 72 piano pieces featured, in any shape or form. The difference is our perspectives: you see the Petipa/Ivanov choreography in the concert hall, I'm outraged to miss the 'right' music in the ballet theatre.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet's magnificent Samsova/Wright production has a much fuller edition of the score and excludes all Drigo's interpolations.

Very interesting angle – I thought it would be frustrating to listen to the music without having some Swans popping around, but – at least under your pen – the score proved to be self-sufficient! Regarding the last paragraph, I personally think dancers should have their say as well as singers, as they need the music to suit them to do their best. Also, from Marius Petipa’s Memories, we know he used to give very strict instructions to Tchaikovsky for his new commissions, mentioning the length, time signature, kind of dance he wanted, if it was for a solo or a corps etc. for each part of the ballet, minute by minute. So the music may not have always come first? (unfortunately I don’t have the book at hand, but I wonder if he didn't choreograph occasionally before getting the music..)

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