thu 17/10/2019

Swan Lake, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House | reviews, news & interviews

Swan Lake, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House

Swan Lake, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House

A subdued start to the Mariinsky's 50th anniversary season

Uliana Lopatkina in the Mariinsky's 'Swan Lake'All photos: Natasha Razina

Act IV is the core of Swan Lake. It doesn’t seem so theatrically, being a peculiar 20-minute bolt-on after an interval that frequently lasts longer than the act that follows. But musically it transcends everything that has gone before, its thready little waltz one of the most delicately tragic things Tchaikovsky ever wrote. And balletically, Lev Ivanov’s rigidly structured classicism draws viewers into the terrifying void that is death. While emotionally the frozen swan-maiden of Act II and the brazen strumpet of Act III here merge to create the incarnation of suffering woman.


I'ver commented before to your ballet critic that Tchaikovsky did not compose a waltz for the last act of Swan Lake - the one the Maryinsky perform is an interpolation of a dreadful un-Tchaikovskian orchestration by Drigo of one the charming smaller movements from the op.72 piano pieces. There are several recordings of what Tchaikovsky actually wrote which reveal this brief act to be a musical masterpiece. Matthew Bourne's version sticks exactly to what Tchaikovsky wrote. Perhaps that is why his last act is so powerful.

Yes, Waldteufel, we have indeed been here before. And in preparing the notes for the Gergiev Prom of what purports to be the complete Swan Lake score in concert, I discover to my horror he'll be sticking to this butchery, along with cuts of about a third of the music elsewhere, as performed by the Maryinsky shortly after the composer's death. Act IV as Tchaikovsky wrote it is his first through-composed ballet act, good enough for Jurowski to want to perform it with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

I do hope, David, that you are allowed to refer to the butchery in your programme notes.

Not as 'butchery', Waldteufel, but I think a more tactful explanation, with the history of this 'tradition' in a box, will make it clear where I stand. And as I requested to do a number-by-number job, I make it clear at every point what's happened, what's been added and what's missing. Of course we also have the Gergiev recording of the Drigo version to compare alongside the full score to be absolutely sure.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature


A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.