Le Corsaire

 

Le Corsaire ballet. Story: Anna-Marie Holmes version of the libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier, based on The Corsair oem by Lord Byron. Choreography and staging: Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev. Music composed by Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Léo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, Prince Pyotr van Oldenburg, Ludwig Minkus, Yuly Gerber, Baron Boris Fitinhof-Schnell, and Albert Zabel, all edited by Lars Payne and Gavin Sutherland. Recorded 2014 as performed by the English National Ballet. Stars Alina Cojocaru (Medora), Vadim Muntagirov (Conrad), Erina Takahashi (Gulnare), Dimitri Gruzdyev (Lankendem), Junor Souza (Ali), Yonah Acosta (Birbanto), Michael Coleman (Pasha), Juan Rodriguez (Pasha Assistant), and Nancy Osbaldeston (Lead Villager). Odalisques danced by Shiori Kase, Alison McWhinney, and Laurretta Summerscales. Lead Roses danced by Nancy Osbaldeston, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Adela Ramírez, and Laurretta Summerscales. Lead Flowers danced by Jem Ghoi, Senri Kou, Jenna Lee, and Jia Zhang. Numerous minor roles are danced by artists of the English National Ballet, students of the English National Ballet School, and pupils of the Tring Park School. Gavin Sutherland directs the Orchestra of English National Ballet. Sets and costumes by Bob Ringwood; lighting by Neil Austin; directed for the screen by Chris Blaine with his brother Ben Blain as Producer for Charlie Productions. Stereo recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling and 5.1 dts recorded with 48kHz/16-bit sound sampling. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: B

Tamara Rojo was one of the leading (and brainiest) ballerinas in the world when she retired early from the Royal Ballet in 2013 to become Artistic Director of the English National Ballet. This Le Corsaire is first HDVD to be released by the ENB under Rojo's leadership.

The ENB worked hard on this title. They were able to cast in-house dancers for all the named characters in the show. To beef up dancing forces, they included ENB School students and pupils from Tring Park, a grade school for children interested in fine-art careers. To insure the highest-quality content, they hired Anna-Marie Holmes, an independent choreographer with vast experience producing Le Corsaire all over the world. They recruited Bob Ringwood, an independent designer, to come up with gorgeous new sets and costumes. Neil Austin, an independent lighting expert, also came on board. Finally, to do the video, they hired the well-known film-makers, Chris and Ben Blaine.

The screenshots below leave no doubt that the show was a fabulous success for the live audience. But the video falls short with (1) serious resolution and PQ issues, especially in the long Act 1, and (2) a harsh sound tract.

Meet Conrad (the Corsaire or pirate chief) performed by Vadim Muntagirov (who was with the ENB at the time and is now a star with the Royal Ballet). Conrad has come to the capital to find his sweetheart Medora, who was taken away by a slave trader:

The Second Officer of the pirates is Birbanto (Yonah Acosta), who has already found a girlfriend (Nancy Osbaldeston) among the local ladies:

Lankendem (Dimitri Gruzdyev) is the slave trader. Here he and his men are drumming up interest in an auction of a bunch of beautiful slave girls.  Lankendem has Medora, but he intends to keep her in his own harem:

Medora (Alina Cojocaru) peeks out of Lankendem's house:

Below the Pasha (Michael Coleman) arrives at the square to buy 3 girls. Now there are two things you should note about the image below as well as those above: the picture resolution is soft and there is a distinct yellow cast to everything.

I can't image why there should be a problem with resolution in a video made in 2014. The videos we are getting these days generally have wonderful clarity of detail. But I noticed weak resolution in this title even in the very first images showing the orchestra (in the relatively dark pit) playing overture music. My initial reaction was to check the disc to see if maybe I'd been sent a DVD by mistake.

The yellow cast is easier to grasp: it appears that Neil Austin saturated the stage in Act 1 with yellow flood lights augmented by white spot lights on the stars. The yellow light would be consistent with the colors in the Ringwood designs. Probably this all looked great live. But the yellow cast looks garish, unnatural, and unpleasant on my calibrated HT display.  It also seems to lead to pasty, washed-out skin tones for the dancers. I next played the disc on a new, uncalibrated, inexpensive Vizio TV (used successfully for watching commercial TV). On the Vizio the yellow cast was even worse (with gold jewelry worn by the slave girls at the rear of the stage reflecting glare). This would suggest that subject title is not suitable to watch on a typical TV!

The yellow glare persists throughout Act 1 even if it at times seems reduced. For example, when the three Odalisques (Shiori Kase, Alison McWhinney, and Laurretta Summerscales) come on stage, I think each gets a white spotlight and the yellow background light is reduced:

Well, back to the story. The Pasha turns down the Odalisques. But he's more impressed by Gulnare (Erina Takahashi) and buys her:

But when he accidentally sees Medora, he is gobsmacked and buys her too:

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Before the Pasha can go home, Conrad and his pirates attack both the Pasha and the slave traders. Conrad flees with Medora and the other slave girls (except Gulnare).  Next, in Act 2, we see Conrad and Medora at Conrad's lair. The girls are safe, our yellow glare is gone, and the only problem with PQ now is a mild softness. Below are six images from the famous Corsaire pas de deux, only here it's a pas de tois of Conrad, Medora, and Conrad's slave Ali (Junor Souza):

Conrad is in love. He wants to give the pirate treasure to Medora and free the slave girls. Birbanto and the rest of the pirates fight Conrad for their share of the booty. In the confusion, Lankendem escapes and takes all the girls back to the capitol. In Act 3, the Pasha is delighted to have his Medora back. Smoking opium, he falls asleep and dreams. Soon we are treated to an incredibly beautiful Petipa-inspired white act:

Two touching close-ups:

The ENB has enough women in the corps to do a decent white act. But by adding student dancers (all drilled to perfection), Rojo and Holmes give this dream scene tremendous additional weigh and charm and they remind us of the greatest similar moments in such works as Swan Lake, Giselle, and Raymonda:

After the dream scene, the Pasha calls for Medora, and we get more yellow light. The figures in black are Conrad and the pirates in disguise. Soon there will be wild action galore, but I'll not spoil the ending for you:

You can see for yourself how much good work went into this title. The casting, book, sets, costumes, choreography, and directing are superb. But something went wrong with coordinating the lighting and the videography, and it's such a pity that a substantial part of the video is marred by the defects shown here.  In addition, the sound recording sounds harsh and dry to me. The score is an extreme pastiche and not something that many music lovers would want to hear separate from the ballet.  I would assume that the ENB Orchestra is completely competent to play this music well. So I think the problem likely is a weak recording.

Sum up: this was an A+ production and should have been an A+ recording. But for weak sound I reduce the grade to "A-." For the problems with the video, I drop back to a B, provided you have a high-quality display. If you have entry-level player and display, you probably will not be happy with this disc. If you are a balletomane, you might overlook the Act 1 yellow problem and be happy with having the beautiful Act 2 and marvelous Act 3 dream scene.

Here's a clip from Act 2: