We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


The ABT audience loves to cheer-- and cheer they did at last night's performance of Swan Lake, starring two major stars of the ballet world, Polina Semionova and David Hallberg.  The Petipa/Ivanov choreography we know and love has endured for over a century with periodic tweaking, including that of Baryshnikov and, in the current version, by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie.  There are those who rail against the Prologue in which Odette's backstory is revealed; we belong to the camp that appreciates it.  We actually get to witness von Rothbart the Evil Sorcerer transform the beautiful young maiden into a swan.  Great theater!

If there is a better ballet, we have not seen it, although Giselle and Romeo and Juliet come close.  Gorgeously tuneful and lavishly orchestrated music by Tchaikovsky?  Check.  Lucid storytelling?  Check.  Dazzling choreography for the principals?  Check.  Dazzling sets and costumes?  Check.

At last night's performance, Polina Semionova was deftly partnered by the long-limbed Mr. Hallberg whose line is regally poetic and whose technique is unsurpassed.  Ms. Semionova was luminous and added some very special touches to her Act III fouetées.  Their partnership leaves nothing to be desired.  Mr. Hallberg's acting was most convincing in Act III; he made it easy for us to "feel his pain".  He was distressed by his mother's insistence on his choosing a bride; his disappointment with each Princess was palpable; his delight when Odile arrives was plain; his passion for the woman he thought was his beloved was thrilling; and his despair when he realized the deception was heartbreaking.  If only he had created a character in Act I it would have been perfect.  As performed, it was difficult to tell what sort of Prince he was and what his relationships were with his mother, his tutor and his best friend.  We have written before about Max Beloserkovsky's Prince Siegfried who shows us all that and more.  Perhaps it is his Russian soul.

Roman Zhurbin danced the role of the monster von Rothbart while the Count in human form was performed by Alexandre Hammoudi who lacks the compelling seductiveness with which Marcelo Gomes invests the role.  The Pas de Trois was neatly executed by Stella Abrera, Maria Riccetto and Sascha Radetsky.  The corps de ballet might have been a bit sharper and one wished for sprightlier cygnettes.

David LaMarche conducted the familiar score without any unwelcome surprises.  Sets and costumes by Zack Brown have held up well and serve the production, as does the atmospheric lighting by Duane Schuler.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ashton 10 Ratmansky 2


A pair of one act ballets at ABT left us wishing we had slipped out during the intermission.  Not enough good things could be said about Frederick Ashton's "The Dream" from 1964; no encomium could do justice to Herman Cornejo's portrayal of Puck.  Wait... portrayal is not the right word.  Mr. Cornejo inhabited the role; one could easily say that he owns it, endowing the character with great joie de vivre, mischievousness, jaw-dropping athleticism, and consummate artistry. 

We all know the story and this is just another case in which a master choreographer can tell the story so that it makes sense; it delights the child in us at the same time as it awakens the adult in us to the vagaries of romantic love.  As Oberon, Cory Stearns was as regal as any King of the Fairies could be.  As Titania, Xiomara Reyes was adorable, if not quite convincing as a Queen.  (She was far more convincing last week as Juliet).  Alexei Agoudine was hilarious as Bottom.  The complicated romantic tribulations of the four Athenians were made crystal clear by Maria Riccetto, Stella Abrera, Sascha Radetsky and Jared Matthews.  Ormsby Wilkins conducted Mendelssohn's delightful score and the Young People's Chorus of New York City sang beautifully.

But oh, that Firebird!  Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence at ABT, can be faulted for trashing a ballet some of us know and love.  Over a century ago, artist/designer Alexandre Benois collaborated with choreographer Michel Fokine and wedded together two Russian folktales, that of the Firebird and that of Katshchei the Immortal.  Diaghilev's Ballets Russes  gave the premiere in Paris where it was an enormous success.  Balanchine also choreographed the work for New York City Ballet and updated the costumes and the sets over the years, eventually settling on Marc Chagall's.  Mr. Ratmansky shows himself to be a pipsqueak in the shadow of giants.  It is sad that in today's audience, there are many who have nothing with which to compare this version and who may leave the theater totally perplexed by this violation of a classic.

The stage is filled with firebirds, all dressed alike, with nothing to distinguish THE Firebird except the outstanding dancing of Natalia Osipova.  Poor Ivan, splendidly danced by Marcelo Gomes, is introduced wandering through bare rooms with doors.  WTF!  The maidens are hideously garbed in green, looking like they wandered over from "Wicked"; worse still, they are given some kind of post-modern witchy-twitchy-itchy movements that make them look spastic, rather than entranced by Katshchei, powerfully danced by David Hallberg, whose makeup makes him look like he could slice bread with his face.  It is hard to believe that Ivan would choose any one of these green ghouls as his beloved.  But he does, he chooses Simone Messmer who did not make much of an impression with her dancing, probably because of the choreography. After Katshchei is destroyed (Ivan breaks the egg containing his soul), off come the green wigs and horrid dresses revealing unbecoming blond wigs and white shifts.  These are attributed to Galina Solovyeva and the weird sci-fi scenery to Simon Pastukh.

There is a puzzling pas de quatre for the Firebird, Ivan, the Maiden and Katshchei that conveys nothing about their respective characters, intentions or relationships.  All in all, there are profound deficits in storytelling and, with few exceptions, a lack of beauty and grace.  And isn't that what we want when we go to the ballet?  Otherwise, we may as well go see post-modern dance.

The score by Stravinsky was commissioned for the ballet when he was but a youth and it brought him great success.  Charles Barker conducted it with spirit.  It could best be enjoyed by closing ones eyes.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, June 17, 2012


The Australian Ballet is in town and we went to see Graeme Murphy's version of Swan Lake.  We were left with some rather mixed feelings.  The work is original and entertaining but lacks the emotional impact of the Petipas/Ivanov version which has accrued layers of "improvements", none of which distracted from the spiritual intensity and mysticism of the original.  We have never been able to watch Max Beloserkovsky dance the role of Siegfried at American Ballet Theater without being completely convinced of his backstory and feeling intense grief over his being deceived by the evil Von Rothbart; if not sobbing at the end we have at the very least been dabbing at the tears on our cheeks evoked by the unwitting betrayal of Irina Dvorovenko's Odette, who can be so intensely immersed in her swanhood with her avian arm movements and long lean lines.  (That they are not dancing as partners this season at ABT is another source of grief!)

Now what has Mr. Murphy wrought?  A tired old story of a love triangle between three people that WE DO NOT CARE ABOUT!  Odette is a bride whose husband is still in love with an old flame, the very married and unpleasant Baroness von Rothbart.  Prince Siegfried at his own wedding seems to prefer the Baroness.  Performed by Kevin Jackson, this Siegfried evinces no backstory.  We don't have a clue about who he is or why he is marrying Odette.  A tall woman in a big hat seems to be The Queen (his mother?) and she also seems to prefer the Baroness.  So it doesn't appear that Siegfried has married Odette to please his mother.

Poor Odette, danced by Madeleine Eastoe, exhibits her jealousy, behaves wildly and is carted off to a mental institution by a black garbed doctor and two white garbed nuns with extravagant headdresses.  Ms. Eastoe is a strong dancer but lacks the long limbs necessary for a beautiful line.  The dancing was quite fine all the way through, including the hateful Baroness, danced by Lucinda Dunn.  BUT, there was no poetry or depth to the performances.

We might have enjoyed the lengthy (3 hours) piece better if it had not made the pretense of being related to the ballet we know and love.  We did observe a number of tributes to the original and were not cheated out of the dance of the four cygnets.  The Hungarian dance was moved to the wedding celebration in Act I.  The reordering of Tchaikovsky's music, ably conducted by Nicolette Fraillion, Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Australian Ballet and played by the New York City Ballet Orchestra, did not trouble us.  Mr. Murphy used it as he saw fit and did some very interesting choreography in the adagios and for the corps as well, especially in the first act wedding scene and the third act party scene.  Yes, THAT scene in which Odette flees the loony bin and crashes the party and wins Siegfried back.  And if you think it ends THERE you will be mistaken.

The lovely and simple sets as well as the vaguely Edwardian costumes, both by Kristian Fredrikson, added to the production.  The lakeside scenes presented women who may or may not have been swans in shorter skirts that may or may not have been meant to look like feathers.  We couldn't stop thinking "Send in the Swans!"

Saturday, June 16, 2012


How do we love Romeo and Juliet?  Let us count the ways.  Do you swoon for Shakespeare's iambic pentameter?   Will wrote his masterpiece in the late 16th c.  based upon a story which dated back to antiquity and had been given several incarnations until the bard brought the two young lovers and their warring families to life.

Do you prefer treating the tale operatically?  Countless composers have given it a go.  Gounod's Roméo et Juliette is arguably the best known.  Bellini's I Capuleti ed I Montecchi has some lovely tunes but has been criticized for not following the story.  Berlioz' version is more of an oratorio.  Let us not forget Tchaikovsky's symphonic poem.

The medium of film has made good use of the story as well.  Zeffirelli's 1968 version far surpassed MGM's 1936 version by casting young non-actors in the lead roles, lending the tale the advantage of verisimilitude.  Baz Luhrman made a post-modern MTV version in 1996.  The Bernstein/Sondheim musical of 1957 West Side Story was based on R&J and was filmed in 1961.

But for us, the pinnacle of pleasure is reached in the medium of ballet.  The visuals and the kinesthetics  allows us to turn off our intellect and to directly experience the intensity of adolescent passion, intergenerational conflict, tribal warfare and profound loss.  John Cranko choreographed a superb R&J in 1962 and Sir Kenneth MacMillan a no less wonderful one in 1965.  It is this latter version currently being presented by the American Ballet Theater.  We just witnessed a triumph of role interpretation by Herman Cornejo who wears the role of Romeo like a second skin.  We were quite sure no one could replace Julio Bocca and the memory of his performance remains untarnished in our mind; but Mr. Cornejo owes us no apologies.  What he lacks in height is more than made up for by his artistry; actually his size works to his advantage in this role and  he is completely believable as an impetuous adolescent.  Xiomara Reyes is a winsome Juliet and convinces us that she is but 13 years old.  The production was effectively staged by Julie Lincoln and the handsome sets and costumes, mostly in tones of burnt sienna and ochre, evince Renaissance Italy.

So, readers, what is your pleasure?  The printed word, the spoken word, film, opera, musical, or ballet?  Please leave your opinions and comments!