Giselle

Giselle ballet. Music by Adolphe Adam to libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges & Théophile Gautier. Choreography by Marius Petipa. Staging and additional choreography 2009 by Rachel Beaujean and Ricardo Bustamante at the Amsterdam Muziektheater. This is the first prodution of Giselle by the Dutch National Ballet. Stars Anna Tsygankova, Jozef Varga, Igone de Jongh, Jan Zerer, Michele Jimenez, Maia Makhateli, Mathieu Gremillet, Arthur Shesterikov, Anu Viheriäranta, Emanouela Merdjanova, Natasja Lucassen, Jeanette Vondersaar, Francis Sinceretti, Dario Mealli, and artists of Het Nationale Ballet. Boris Gruzin conducts the Holland Sinfonia. Sets and costumes by Toer van Schayk; lighting by James F. Ingalls; television direction and production by Jeff Tudor & Adrienne Liron. Released  2010, disc has 5.1 Dolby sound. Our disc purchased from Amazon in the U.S. is restricted to region A. Caution:  there are 2 "flavors" of this disc out now. In October 2014, the Region A disc is Amazon ASIN B002VR9QXW which is cheap in the US and Canada but expensive in Europe. At the same time, the  All Regions disc is Amazon ASIN B003D8O8G8 which is reasonably priced in Europe but expensive in the US and Canada.  This is, of course, the fault of suits and lawyers. Things could change--- be wary to get the disc you need at the best price. Grade: B+

In February 2010 we had 3 Giselle HDVDs. First to be published was the Opus Arte 2009 Cojocaru/Kobborg/Nuñez version by the Royal Opera House ("ROH"). Next we got the TDK 2009 Pujol/Le Riche/Gillot version from the Paris Opera Ballet ("POB"). And finally we got this  Kultur 2010 Tsygankova/Varga/de Jongh take with the Dutch National Ballet ("DNB"). This review which I attach to all 3 versions, will present a brief shootout of the three titles.

In Act 1, we meet the tender, innocent peasant girl Giselle who is in love with the handsome Albrecht. Albrecht pretends to be a peasant youth, but he's really a nobleman who is engaged to a girl of his own class. Giselle's mother Berthe warns Giselle of the dangers of romance and tells Giselle about the Wilis, the ghosts of jilted girls who died before their weddings and who haunt the nearby forest. Hilarion, a peasant hunter who loves Giselle, is suspicious of Albrecht. When Hilarion reveals Albrecht's identity and his duplicity, Giselle goes mad and dies. Everyone is distraught, including Albrecht, who, we begin to understand, truly preferred Giselle to the noble lady with whom he has been matched.

In Act 2, Giselle has been buried in the forest. 26 Wilis and their Queen, Myrtha, prepare to receive Giselle as their latest initiate. Giselle will then help them accomplish their mission: to trap young men (whether guilty or innocent) and force them to dance until they die from exhaustion. Hilarion visits Giselle's grave and meets his doom. Albrecht also visits Giselle's grave and is captured by the Wilis. But Giselle rebels and protects her sweetheart just long enough for the dawn to arrive and disperse the Wilis. Albrecht escapes, but he must live out his life knowing that he will never see his true love again.

In Act 1, the ROH has the best mise-en-scène with updated sets, warm lighting, beautiful costumes, great acting, and coherent direction. Everybody in the cast, selected for acting ability or sex appeal as well as dancing prowess, seems 2 to 10 years younger than their French counterparts in the POB. Picture quality is excellent with vivid and skillful editing. The sound is adequate. Cojocaru is cute and charming. Her mad scene is deeply pathetic. She stabs herself and then dies hard, which means that she will be buried in the forest, and not in the churchyard, where those who commit suicide are not allowed. Sandra Conley is touching as Giselle's mother, Martin Harvey as Hilarion is appealing, and Johan Kobborg as Albrecht seems worthy of sympathy, especially after we meet his fianceé played haughtily by Genesia Rosato, who appears to be 5 to 10 years older than he. In contrast, the approach of the POB to Act 1 is cooler and more formal. It features larger dancing formations---executed with impressive skill---that need full-stage photography. I get the impression that the sets and costumes have been packed and unpacked a great many times. Pujol is maybe a bit too old and mature to be the Giselle the girl, but she makes up for this with her assured dancing skills. For example, there is a scene where Giselle hops repeatedly on pointe on her left foot. Cojocaru does 24 small hops which are hardly noticable among all that is going on. But Pujol makes an almost unbelievable display of this with 34 big, bold hops that take her half across the stage while she laughs and flirts with all the spectators standing around gawking. The other stars are only OK. Picture quality is a bit disappointing, but the POB has the better sound with 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio. The Kultur video was made from the first ever production of Giselle by the DNB. For the Dutch folks to compete with the ROH and the POB in this might be a bit like Lichtenstein getting into a soccer tournament with England and Brazil. The DNB forces obviously had a lesser budget than the others and their small forces looked rather thin on the big stage. On the other hand, Varga seemed to me to be the best Albrecht in this group. Kultur is entering the market at a lower price point than Opus Arte or TDK. This means Kultur has to cut corners---picture quality is only adequate and the "5.1 Dolby" sound is feeble when compared to the TDK disc.

Act 2 is a ghost story in ballet blanc. Now the tables are turned in favor of the formal approach of the POB. Marie-Agnès Gillot is commanding as Queen of the Wilis, a task that is too much to ask of the younger and shorter Nuñez. Pujol is prettier as as ghost than she was as a girl. The cool lighting of the POB is perfect now, with a mottled blue-white pattern that allows you to see well enough while preserving a sense of mystery. The blue light washes out the pink skin hues to the point that the dancers look as well as dance like spirits. At Myrtha's command, the veils of all the jilted girls instantaneously fly offstage as if by magic. The cameras in Paris are positioned in the balconies where they look down on the stage and reveal the exact location, rank and file, of each dancer at every moment throughout all their formations. This gives us rolling proof of the discipline, control, and perfection for which the Paris female corps is famous. (If their formations were any more orderly, it would start to look like a computer simulation.) In contrast, the cameramen in London shoot Act 2 from positions level with the stage. This they do, I think, in an (only partly successful) attempt to obscure irregularities and raggedness in the ROB ballet-blanc formations. This leaves the female corps of the POB in charge. But let's don't forget about the Dutch! Igone de Jongh is gorgeous and terrifying as Myrtha. Varga bests his competition in portraying Albrecht's grief. And the Dutch corps worked hard on their white formations, which are better than those of the ROH and almost as impressive as the work of the POB.

So here's how I sum up the 3 Giselles. Act 1 is a the story of a girl who died. Act 2 is a ghost story. The ROH focuses on the girl and has the best Act 1. The POB focuses on the ghosts and has the best Act 2. The DNB has only a fair Act 1, but they surpass the ROH and are competitive with the POB in Act 2. The prettiest scene in all three versions belongs to the DNB when the corps circles Myrtha in the smoke at the beginning of Act 2. For young children and ballet newbies, the ROH disc will probably be more fun. For all others, the POB disc must be preferred because of it's admirable white scenes and superior sound. The DNB disc also would be an option, especially if you have a Region A Blu-ray player, have an entry-level home theater, and are on a tight budget.

Here are some screenshots from the Dutch National Ballet Giselle. We start with Giselle (Anna Tsygankova) and Count Albrecht (Jozef Varga), who, in love with Giselle, is pretending to be a commoner:

Village life:

Mom begs Giselle not to dance so much because of Giselle's weak constitution:

The royals visit Giselle's house, which is a kind of tavern for hunting parties. The young lady is Bathilde (Natasja Lucassen), who is engaged to marry Count Albrecht:

Bathilde is charmed by Giselle and gives her a magnificent necklace. Neither girl knows, of course, that they both hope to marry the same man:

Giselle is also elected the Harvest Queen. But her blissful day is soon to be ruined:

Hilarion (Jan Zerer), who has long been in love with Giselle, reveals that Giselle's mysterious friend is royalty. Giselle learns that Albrecht is engaged to Bathilde:

Giselle goes mad. Tsygankova is a great dancer, but she is not going to win any Oscars for acting:

Giselle's heart stops:

Vargas is convincing in registering shock, grief, and remorse:

Act II is at the cemetery in the forest. Myrtha (Igone de Jongh) is Queen of the Wilis, the ghosts of all the young girls who died after being jilted. Any young man captured by the Wilis will be, whether he be guilty or innocent, forced to dance until he dies of exhaustion. But first, the Wilis must purify and steel themselves for their mission:

My favorite image from all the Giselle HDVDs:

Both Hilarion and Albrecht enter the forest to visit Giselle's grave. Hilarion, though argueably innocent, suffers the dance of death. Now it's Albrecht's turn. Crossing her wrists, Myrtha tries Albrecht and condemns him to keep dancing:

But Giselle still loves Albrecht and defends him:

Giselle's mourning dance:

A ghostly pas de deux:

Giselle's defense works! Dawn approachs, and the Wilis must return to their beds. Albrecht is saved to live out his life in remorse and wonder:

The first row of buttons should allow you to buy Amazon ASIN B002VR9QXW (Region A), which is cheap in the US and Canada but expensive in Europe:

 


The second row of buttons should allow you to buy Amazon ASIN B003D8O8G8, which is reasonably priced in Europe but expensive in the US and Canada: