Raymonda: Natalya Bessmertnova; Jean de Brienne: Yuri Vasyuchenko; Abderakhman: Gedminas Taranda
The Bolshoi Ballet; Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Algis Zhuraitis
Studio: NHK/ArtHaus Musik 100 719 (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 full screen color
Audio: PCM stereo
Region Code: Worldwide
Length: 125 minutes
This record of the complete Raymond ballet is somewhat better quality in both picture and sound than most of the Bolshoi productions on video. The reason is probably that the production was handled by NHK of Japan with a Japanese director. The long shots of the entire stage could be higher resolution and the stereo sound is a bit harsh in places, especially in the highest strings, but it’s an improvement over most of the Russian ballet films and videos.
The score by Glazunov is a lovely one and not overplayed. It follows closely on the style set by Tchaikovsky, his predecessor at the Bolshoi. In fact it sounds almost as if Tchaikovsky had live another couple of decades longer and gone on composing for the ballet. There are some more exotic folk influences in the music, but couched in the same conventional late-Romantic style of Tchaikovsky. There are hints of Armenian, Georgian and further east folk cultures, and one section is strongly redolent of Polish folk dances, while another sounds almost like Khachaturian. Most of these are in the third act, where the different folk dances are given as part of the celebration of the marriage of Raymonda and her knight.
However, the most interesting and exciting choreography is in the second act, in which Raymonda is wooed by the smitten sheik Abderakhman. As is usually the case with the devil, the sheik gets all the best steps, but then unfortunately he is dispatched in a duel when the knight suddenly returns from war, and that boring fellow, all in white, takes over the stage. The costumes are impressive, but the original Petipa choreography seems stilted and repetitious, with a limited number of moves (although I’m far from a ballet aficionado). Perhaps others appreciate it more, as I might a loving re-creation of, say, some New Orleans jazz of Jelly Roll Morton. An intriguing section of the performance is the entr’acte before the third act, during which we are treated to shots of the ballet orchestra jammed tightly into their pit shoulder-to-shoulder, sawing away. They’re all scowling except for one player who seems to be laughing at the camera; reminded me of a Charles Adams cartoon.
I found that though the DVD is 4:3 I could stretch it successfully to widescreen on my Elite 16:9 display – which looks so much better with dance images. Many dance films are so closely cropped that doing that frequently cuts off the dancers’ feet, but that wasn’t the case here. However, I couldn’t similarly enhance the two-channel sound by running it thru Pro Logic II – that added a bit of annoying distortion to the already less-than-optimum signal.
– John Sunier