New Year’s Eve in Saint Petersburg (2006)

by | Jan 2, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

New Year’s Eve in Saint Petersburg (2006)

Performers: Soloists and Ballet/ Young Singers of the Mariinsky Theatre
/Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev cond.
Venue: Mariinsky Theatre
Studio: BelAir Classiques BAC 030 (Dist. by Harmonia mundi)
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Regional Coding: all regions
Menu Languages: French, English, German, Spanish
Booklet: 24 Pages, English, French
Length: 126 minutes
Rating: *****

This DVD is a well-deserved tribute to the City of Saint Petersburg, home to the Kirov Ballet since 1860. The orchestra’s conductor is Valery Gergiev, a master of the old school of symphonic ballet. This concert was performed on December 31, 2006 on the eve of the New Year. The dancing sets on this DVD are mostly built from selected excerpts of Tchaikovsky/Petipa/Ivanov’s The Sleeping Beauty ballet. From the beginning the solo violin with its beguiling sound full of magic and the supreme lyricism of the dancing speaks well of a ballet that saw its premiere at this same theatre on January 3, 1890.

The performances remain just as imperial as the building that saw their premiere. It will be rather difficult to measure and judge what is presented to us here just from the selected excerpts given the lack of synergy that is only obtained from the whole and here we have only a few selected segments. However it’s not difficult to see the excellence that permeates this theatre and its corps de ballet. The present regié conveys the original message and final definition of the tsarist spectacle it really was. In this ballet the Tsar and his coterie saw the definitive statement that ballet as a major art form was owned by Russia and nobody else at that time. Most other countries and their people had lost their taste for classical ballet as a decadent neo-baroque or rococo art form; for them ballet was sheer decadence and passé. This ballet was at that time not only aiming at royal homage but also at the same time was an academic formulation, its obvious technical determinant was canonical legibility; a good example can be seen in Track 14 with the power of the orchestra and the whole corps de ballet dancing to it.

However the most notable of all in this DVD is the Death of the Swan (Track 11) variation performed to the music of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals – the original variation was a joint creation by Mikhail Fokine (1880-1942) and Anna Pavlova (1881-1931). The present ballerina is Ulyana Lopatkina – she is one of the prima ballerinas of the Mariinsky Theatre corps de ballet; her variation, performed in its totality en pointe is the personification of sorrow and truly conveys the feeling of The Swan ferociously fading onto death.  Her Swan – like old soldiers – doesn’t dye…it just fades away into the inevitable. This variation is the epitome of classical ballet and Lopatkina’s performance is grandiose from the beginning’s striking entrance into the stage to the final chords. A performance characterized by technical virtuosity and strength representing the ultimate expression of life: death. In my mind the ballerina is telling us “The Swan is dead – long live The Swan.” I am sure it will be useful to contrast (not compare) Lopatkina’s performance with those of two other exquisite ballerinas: Maya Plisetskaya (Essential Ballet: Philips DVDV 00440-075-0842) and Nina Ananiashvili (VAI -DVD 4241) – both of them notable for their completely different interpretations of the same.

As a whole this is grand spectacle in the old Kirov’s tradition, the régie by Sergéï Beck with its traditional “Imperial” opulence duplicates what were the last days of the 19th Century and is a superlative example of how ballet should be staged while Gergiev’s orchestra is the personification of symphonic ballet. We can easily identify all instrumental sections and individual instruments (in the pit) with realistic surround sound. In a sense this is rare as we seldom can do that when music is recorded from the pit – in this DVD the music which is an integral part of the ballet has acoustic depth and breath as if were seating in center row 10 of the theatre. This is the psychoacoustic power of a well-conceived DVD that transports us to a far away theatre to witness a unique ballet performance and as such it merits the highest rating – this is a must-have DVD for symphonic ballet lovers.

— John Nemaric


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