DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

PROKOFIEV: Cinderella ballet (2003/2008)

Whatever the limitations of the ballet this performance is never less than entertaining and professional.

Published on February 7, 2009

PROKOFIEV: Cinderella ballet (2003/2008)

PROKOFIEV: Cinderella ballet (2003/2008)

Performers: Soloists/ Zurich Ballet/ Zurich Opera House Orch./ Vladimir Fedoseyev
Studio: BelAir Classiques BAC202 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 widescreen color
Audio: DD 5.1; DTS 5.1; PCM stereo
No region coding
Length: 105 minutes
Rating: ****

Prokofiev composed Cinderella during the peak war years 1940-1944. It was commissioned by the Kirov Ballet as a direct result of the successful Russian premiere of his Romeo and Juliet but had its premiere 21 Nov. 1945 at the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow. It was on 22 June 1941 while Prokofiev was laboring on the piano score of Cinderella’s second act in the countryside near Moscow when he heard of the Nazi invasion of Russia. The ballet was laid aside for nearly two years during which he concentrated on the composition of his huge opera War and Peace. This may explain some of the distracted nature of the Cinderella score which to my ear sounds not only light – as it is sometimes called – but slightly disinterested.

The tenuous relationship between composers and the Stalin regime during the dark era of purges and show trials might also explain the music’s relative timidity. Prokofiev’s score for Romeo and Juliet originally featured a happy ending but was never publicly mounted as the climate of fear increased amongst musical and theatrical circles. Following two extremely notorious Pravda editorials attacking Dmitri Shostakovich and the other “degenerate” modernists a climate of fear engulfed artists in the Soviet union. The editorials were in response to Shostakovich’s controversial opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” which Stalin reportedly had seen and hated. No doubt Macbeth’s well known plot concerning a tyrant’s murderous rise to power invested the title with a little too much symbolic power. The opera was condemned as being formalist, coarse, artistically primitive and vulgar. From then on confusion reigned as fear of being permanently silenced for making an incorrect artistic statement swept the Russian intelligentsia.

This performance of the ballet features splendid dancing and some astonishingly beautiful costumes and lovely sets. With male dancers appearing as the Wicked Stepmother and the two Stepsisters the comedy is broad and earthy. Karine Seneca is a stately Cinderella although perhaps a little old for the role. Stanislav Jermakov dances Frederic the Prince and is an elegant monarch. All of the dancers are quite good with the Corps de Ballet exhibiting splendid technique, making each scene a pleasure to watch. The choreography by Heinz Spoerli is conservative but effective with no movements that detract from the ballet’s dramatic presentation. Movements are always facile and graceful, allowing for a stately naturalness that is always present. The music as performed by the Zurich Opera House Orchestra is well played and makes for a lively and classy accompaniment. Whatever the limitations of the ballet as composed this performance is never less than entertaining and professional.

The sound is clear and well focused with the strings especially exhibiting a warm, silky sheen. Woodwinds seem to float above the orchestra which heightens the power of those passages where Prokofiev uses them to propel both narrative and characterizations forward. PCM stereo sounds slightly richer and more robust than either DD 5.1 or DTS 5.1.

— Mike Birman

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