Two Thuggish Ballets--Balletabend at the Staatsoper
Although this is the first event we attended, I have left my comments
on it to the end, because my reaction to it was so negative.
The Staatsoper, on Unter den Linden, Barenboim's house, is the most
popular of the Berlin opera houses, I understand, and one I was unable
to get tickets to in advance of my trip. I wanted to see the house,
though, and when, our first moring in Berlin, we walked up the street
from our hotel toward the Museum Island and passed the opera house there
was a big banner announcing a Stravinsky ballet evening, presumably that
day. As it happened, they had very good seats, in the middle loge.
The program was the Firebird and Sacre du printemps. I love the music
to both; in fact the Firebird suite was on the program at the very first
concert I ever attended. I have seen four versions of the complete
firebird as a ballet: two on film (one with Nureyev/Fonteyn)--both good;
two on stage--not so good. One of the latter was not bad musically but
the production had nothing in common with the trqditional scenario. The
present production I found disappointing with respect to the musical
performance, the dancing, and the production.
Although the pit at the Staatsoper appears enormous from the house, the
sound on this occasion was thin and a piano seems to have been filling
in for a few players; the sound should have been sumptuous. I will say
that the articulation was clear and precise. The dancing was unimpressive.
Enough said about that.
The production was conceptual, beginning with large circles of light,
then with a blue ring on which the prince decended to the stage. When
the firebird appeared, it was male, with a red locket around his neck,
which turned out to be the "feather." The firebird pursued, rather than
was pursued. There were the expected enchanted ladies and the princess,
but their dances were not much (especially at the end of the ballet but
here too.) When the magician's thugs appeared, as expected, they wore
sports uniforms and banged hard folding chairs on the floor. When the
firebird appeared as summoned, he lost no time in making the egg come
down from the flies to smash right away, rather than putting everyone
to sleep first. During the berceuse only the firebird and the prince
were on stage. The firebird then did present the princess to the prince,
but took back his locket.
The musical performance of Sacre was much more adequate. The dancing
was vigorous and athletic, though I am not entirely sure it should be
called dancing--maybe modern dance. But the production!
Sacre shocked in 1913. I would say thqt the aim of this two year old
ballet company was to show that theatrical shock is still possible in
the 21st century. The whole concept here was brutal and violent, rather
than a representation of an admittely primitive fertility-ritual sacrifice
of a maiden. There were 6 men and 6 women. By the end there was no
maiden to sacrifice because all the women had been forcibly raped by all
the men. A final victim was selected anyway and her clothes stripped
off before her final moments.
In the row ahead of me there was a lovely young girl who left with her
two older male companions without applauding; I hope she was not too