STRAVINSKY: L'histoire du soldat
NEW YORK CITY BALLET IN MONTREAL - Volume 3
NEW YORK CITY IN MONTREAL - Volume 5
This film of Stravinsk's L'histoire du soldat is magnificent. A production of the Netherlands Dance Theater, It featured stunning choreography by Jiri Kylián. Stravinsky composed this ballet in Switzerland in 1918, about five years after the notorious premiere of Le sacre du printemps in Paris. . Soldat had its premiere in Lausanne with Ernest Ansermet on the podium. The t suite from Soldat is often played at concerts in the composer's later expanded version but full-scale ballet productions are quite rare. The satiric plot involved a solder who plays the violin and sells his soul to the devil by trading his violin for a magic book. This supposedly is to provide him with wealth, but wen it doesn't quite work out, the soldier is disillusioned . The involved plot is explained by the narrator, and the visual aspects in this production are stunning. Generally the stage is rather bleak, but props are used effectively including a magnificent large gold lamé spread that is most impressive. Kylian, who is a dancer and an important figure in choreography for many years, knows what dancers can do and surely puts them to the test in this astounding characterization. Nacho Durato, a leading dancer for many years, is quite fantastic and convincing as the ill-fated Soldier, and Aryeh Weiner is perfect as the Devil. This is a splendid visual treat with brilliant video. For me, the only weakness is audio. It is stereo and not recorded with much impact—there is a lot of percussion here and it could be a sonic spectacular, which unfortunately it is not. How effective it would have been if engineers had recorded the small ensemble in true wide-range surround sound, which would have been a perfect accompaniment to the astounding visuals. Still, this is a fabulous show, and highly recommended.
Earlier this year this site mentioned the first two volumes of VAI Video's commendable series focusing on George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet appearances in Montreal (REVIEW). This gave details of how this project came to be. Technicians have done what can be done to restore these telecasts, but picture quality usually is grainy and undefined, a price to be paid for these important ballet performances. All are presented with sparse scenery.. The orchestra sounds under rehearsed and has not been very well recorded, but it serves its purpose.
Here now are three more volumes in the series. Again we have stars of the New York City Ballet in roles for which they are famous, and we have the pleasure of seeing two of their greatest ballerinas, Maria Tallchief (Swan Lake, telecast March 25, 1954) and Tanaquil Le Clercq (Coppelia, telecast March 13, 1954) partnered by André Eglevsky. Volume III also includes a 1957 telecast of Menotti's rarely seen The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore, premiered by the company that year in New York. This is, "a madrigal fable" for small chorus, ten dancers and nine instruments, with a libretto by the composer based on the 18th century Italian madrigal comedy genre. There is a prologue, 12 madrigals and 6 musical interludes. The three title characters are allegories for the three stages in the life of the protagonist, a very strange poet. This surely doesn't sound like Menotti, and the work is seldom performed. There are several recordings including one made for EMI the year of the premiere by Thomas Schippers who conducted the premiere. If you are curious, here's an opportunity to experience this odd work. Also included is a brief interview with Balanchine.
Volume IV contains three major Balanchine works, The Four Temperaments with music by Hindemith telecast November 1, 1964, Ivesiana telecast the same day, and Afternoon of a Faun from a telecast December 6, 1955. The Hindemith begins as Balanchine introduces the dancers. Ivesiana is a balletic masterpiece, choreographed to four of Ives' works: Central Park in the Dark, The Unanswered Question, In the Inn, and In the Night. The Hindemith and Ives are conducted by Robert Irving, who for three decades was conductor of the NYCB, the Debussy is led by Desiré Defauw, who was music director of the Montreal Symphony 1940 - 1953 when he began a four-year leadership of the Chicago Symphony. All three ballets have sparse scenery, the first two choreographed by Balanchine, the Debussy by Jerome Robbins. Robbins' views of Faun seems austere, taking place in a dance studio, decidedly unsensuous.
Volume V features two major Balanchine ballets, Bugaku with music by Toshiro Mayuzumi, telecast in color November 5, 1978, and Stravinsky's Apollo, telecast black/white March 10, 1960. An added feature is excerpts from Apollo telecast in color on the Bell Telephone Hour January 18, 1963. Robert Irving conducts the complete ballets, the excerpts are led by Donald Voorhees. As always, performances reflect the NYCB's high standards. All of these volumes are of keen interest to lovers of ballet, who will not mind the primitive video and audio quality. The only negative element of the series is the limited playing time. Each program is about an hour—at least two volumes could have been included on a single DVD.
R.E.B. (December 2014)