Monday, 15 August 2011
There's a not too contrived link to be made between Dvorak's Rusalka, which I saw at Glyndebourne for the second time yesterday following on from my pre-performance talk, and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, which you can hear in anything but its entirety (more anon) conducted by Gergiev at the Proms tonight. The photos are by Alastair Muir for Glyndebourne and Natasha Razina for the Mariinsky.
I was lucky to be able to play to the punters yesterday a hard-to-find recorded snippet* of the reconstructed duet from Tchaikovsky's discarded opera Undine which he used again as the great lakeside Pas d'action of his first ballet (and aptly; Odette, though originally a mortal maiden, is a transfigured creature of the lake whose prince betrays her, in this case with a black-swan decoy). The source is very similar to Dvorak's: a very poignant adaptation of the Melusine legend by De La Motte Fouque. His Undine spawned a whole host of forgotten or rarely-revived operas, starting with Hoffmann's (he of Offenbach's tales - composer as well as poet) in 1816.
It was fun to play the audience, as I partly did two years ago, snippets of water-nymph music more familiar in other contexts - not just Tchaikovsky's but also Mendelssohn's - his Fair Melusine Overture unquestionably influenced Wagner - and Offenbach's (the overture to Die Rheinnixen became the most celebrated of all Barcarolles). I also played them Mackerras's arrangement of Sullivan's Iolanthe music in Pineapple Poll, and asked them to guess the composer. The suggestions were gratifying, and not unreasonable: Wagner? Janacek? Mahler? No-one got it, though one lady who'd loved Sasha Regan's all-male production at Wilton's Music Hall production - the best thing I've seen up to this Rusalka all year - may have been too shy to speak up.
The revival was just as focused, emotional and ravishing as its predecessor. I've written a bit about this on The Arts Desk, but it will do no harm to reproduce this marvellous photo of Rusalka in extremis with her handsome, love-death-seeking Prince; Dina Kuznetsova made the role her very individual own, while Pavel Cernoch stole AND broke hearts with looks and tenderest singing in that greatest of final scenes.
And let's not forget the Wood Nymphs with their bark-rustling skirts and their breast-waggling, leaping dances - love the way Still introduces an element of Bacchic threat into their revels. It's all in the myths, of course, but the way she makes it real is wholly her own.
We have to see Still's Wagner Ring cycle some time soon; she'd be the perfect director for it.
And of course Glyndebourne is the ideal place for Dvorak's watery, enchanted-melancholy masterpiece. The lake looked ravishing in both intervals - here's my guest, last weekend's generous hostess Deborah, on either side. As you will have noted from one of the entries below, her own garden 'rooms' give the Christies' a run for their money, and her bronze 'world gone pear-shaped' would look splendid here (they are, in fact, introducing sculptures, but rather cautiously and with mixed success). It was also a joy to walk around with someone who knew the names of each and every plant.
What I hadn't anticipated was stepping out to retrieve the picnic box after Rusalka had sung her last over the body of her prince and being greeted by a full moon rising.
Had to stand, stare and snap at the head of the lake before it was time to pile on the bus back to Lewes. Bit of a contrast here: sharper with flash above, fuzzier but perhaps more atmospheric below without.
As for tonight, you must know that the Swan Lake Gergiev conducts is still the butchered Mariinsky version of 1894, which has always accompanied the old Sergeyev production incorporating Petipa's and Ivanov's choreography. You might have forgotten musical sorrows when dazzled by so prima a ballerina as Uliana Lopatkina, who came to London for the recent Mariinsky season. My colleague Judith Flanders on The Arts Desk was a little underwhelmed.
So tonight there'll be no sad dance of swans in Tchaikovsky's originally seamless Act 4, but two totally inappropriate interpolations by Drigo of orchestrated late piano pieces. Plus about a third of the original score cut and reordered. Knowing this, I hope, should soften the blow and help you to enjoy what there is. For full details, you'll have to read my programme notes, which can be read on the Proms website.
It will still be good to hear all this music in the concert hall, but when that's the only opportunity any of us are going to get of catching the entire score live, isn't this clinging to a mistaken tradition foolhardy?
*from an LP in the collection of that great Russophile Richard Beattie Davis, courtesy of his widow Gillian.