Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty, Blu-ray (2006/2009)

by | Oct 29, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty, Blu-ray (2006/2009)

Choreography: Marius Petipa
Dancers: Alina Cojocaru, Federico Bonelli, Marianela Nunez, Genesia Rosato, Christopher Saunders, Elisabeth McGorian
Conducted by: Valeriy Ovsyanikov, with The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Studio: Opus Arte OA BD7037D [Distributed by Naxos]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color, 1080i HD
Audio: Uncompressed PCM 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: Illustrated synopsis, Cast gallery
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, (Bonus Features Only)
Feature Length: 135 minutes
Rating: ****

Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty didn’t get off to a particularly good start with the theater-going public, who thought the initial staging of the work in 1890 to be perhaps a bit too luxuriously French in character. In fact, the elaborate costuming and staging fully required one-quarter of the annual production budget for the Russian Imperial Theater! However, the younger generation of Russian ballet fanatics counted among their numbers such talents as Igor Stravinsky, George Balanchine and Anna Pavlova, and they helped ensure that Sleeping Beauty and its lavish productions became a staple of modern ballet theater. As the Soviet era dawned, there was some concern that the ballet’s themes of monarchial ascension – in combination with its rather bourgeois staging – might pose some thematic challenges to the Soviet authorities, but the ballet was soon deemed as one of the few works from the tsarist regime acceptable for public presentation. As such, it quickly became the most frequently performed ballet of the early Soviet era, even though the Bolsheviks once had the story line rewritten to reflect more of an emphasis on revolutionary themes – a revision that, thankfully, never made it to the stage.

This 2006 Covent Garden production, mounted in combination with the Royal Opera House and the BBC in honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the ballet company, surely has recaptured the presentation values of that original staging – this has to be the most elaborately costumed and staged Sleeping Beauty I’ve ever seen – it’s unbelievably gorgeous! Of course, the story line essentially follows the birth of the princess Aurora and the festivities surrounding her christening. Everyone of note is in attendance; including several good fairies, and each, in turn, bestow their gifts upon the baby. Unfortunately, the guest list has overlooked one particularly unhappy character, the evil Carabosse, and she makes a quite unwelcome appearance to bestow her own gift – a curse that by her sixteenth birthday, the young princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die! Fortunately, the Lilac Fairy has not yet given her gift, and while she can’t undo Carabosse’s curse, she is able to change the outcome to a long sleep rather than death, only to be awakened by true love’s first kiss. The balance of the ballet is a nearly ceaseless procession of dances that eventually lead up to princess Aurora’s awakening and wedding day.

While the presentation here is undoubtedly quite a spectacle to behold – it’s a somewhat dated subject thematically, and the action can be quite plodding at times, to say the least. Those with limited attention spans will likely be bored to tears apart from the handful of big action sequences (among them, the spectacular arrival of Carabosse and her party of oversized menacing mice) and the seemingly nonstop series of magnificently presented and rousing pas de deux. Clocking in at two-and-a-quarter hours, it runs a bit longish, but true patrons of the ballet will be glued to the edge of their seats in rapt attention to the unfolding opulence. In fact, the very qualities of this presentation that may be seen as detriments among less attentive viewers will easily be seen as the production’s strengths by traditionalists.

Technically, this new Blu-ray from Opus Arte is little short of reference quality. The color representation throughout is simply brilliant, and the image quality is remarkably detailed; this is, undoubtedly, the finest video of a ballet presentation – bar none – I’ve ever seen. The clarity of image is incredibly impressive. Contrast, even throughout the ballet’s numerous darkish scenes, is superb, and the Blu-ray offers deep and consistent black levels. From an audio standpoint, the uncompressed PCM tracks are also magnificent; I did most of my listening through the 5.1 track, and it offered an immersive and powerful home theater experience, with plenty of oomph in all the right places! Bonus features are limited to a cast gallery and an illustrated synopsis, and with a lavish production like this one, it really would have been nice to see a hi-def making-of featurette, but let’s face it – the ballet itself is the true star here.

For lovers of classical music and ballet, this is a must have, and for the uninitiated – well, prepare to be wowed by the overall spectacle! Very highly recommended!

— Tom Gibbs


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