Nutcracker

Nutcracker ballet. Music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. Choreography by Helgi Tomasson. Performed 2007 by the San Francisco Ballet at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. Stars Elizabeth Powell (Clara), Davit Karapetyan (Nutcracker Prince), Damian Smith (Uncle Drosselmeyer), David Arce (Mouse King), Yuan Yuan Tan (Snow Queen), Pierre-François Vilanoba (Snow King), Vanessa Zahorian (Sugar Plum Fairy), Maria Kochetkova (Grand Pas de Deux Ballerina), Nicolas Blanc (Chinese Man); and Sarah Van Patten (Genie). Martin West conducts the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. Set design by Michael Yeargan; costumes by Martin Pakledinaz; lighting by James F. Ingalls; projection designs by Wendall K. Harrington. Directed for film by Matthew Diamond; Audio Producer Adam was Abeshouse; Executive Producer was Havid Horn. Disc has especially valuable extras. Released in 2009, all music recorded with 48kHz/24-bit specs and disc has 5.0 PCM sound output. Grade: A+

This Nutcracker is set in San Francisco in about 1915, a few years after the great earthquake. Much research and work results in authentic-looking design. This was doubtless a source of great pride to the citizens of SF and works fine for everybody else, even though Act II is set in a San Franciscan landmark building rather than in the Land of Sweets.

Americans are used to romance for Clara. Here little Clara (Elizabeth Powell) is transformed at the end into a young woman for the Grand Pas de Deux with the Prince. This is performed with spectacular lifts by Maria Kochetkova and Prince Davit Karapetyan. Kochetkova preseves Clara's innocence with the bemused expression of self-conscious embarrassment of a young girl playing make-believe. So this take will probably be both safe and satisfying to the girls in your audience. (This might be too bland for you. I'm thinking now about the Baryshnikov/Kirkland 1977 version with the American Ballet Theater that became famous in the U.S. on television. That's the one where Clara falls in love with the Prince and Drosselmeyer (Alexander Minz), terrified that Clara will not return to her family, must forcefully intervene to break the spell.)

The production has brilliant scenery, costumes, and lighting. 164 company members and students dance like they are competing for first prize. All the character dances from the Spanish Dance to the Waltz of the Flowers are wonderful.

Well, let's break the monotony with some screenshots. The ballet starts with the traditional scenes from the street and the family Christmas party. Note the dress on the ballerina; I think it shows up again on the Sugar Plum Fairy in Act II:

Uncle Drosselmeyer gives the Nutcracker doll to Clara, and Clara's brother breaks it. Drosselmeyer and the girls nurse the doll while the boys plot more mischief:

A surprise attack:

After the party, Clara in her nightgown creeps downstairs to sleep with her doll. Drosselmeyer returns in her dream:

The magician transforms the living room and the Nutcracker doll is now as big as a real man:

Clara's girlfriends become soldiers. They and the Nutcracker will protect Clara:

They will protect Clara even from those nasty boys, who have turned into real rats!

A whiff of grapeshot:

The rats flee in defeat. The Nutcracker is revealed to be a Prince:

The Prince takes Clara on a fabulous journey. First they pass through the land of the Snow King (Fierre François Vilanoba) and Snow Queen (Yuan Yuan Tan):

The female corps contributes 16 snowflakes who manage to give a huge impression for their modest number backed up by stage effects that leave the place looking like Siberia. Note the curtain falling to end Act 1:

Act 2 opens with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Vanessa Zahorian) and a number for older students at the SFB School:

The best Arabian Dance ever (with genie Sarah Van Patten):

In San Francisco, they know how to make a great Chinese dragon (solo dancer Nicolas Blanc):

The Mirlitons:

A spectacular Russian Dance:

Madame du Cirque has many surprises in her tent. The dancing bear is alone worth the price of this disc:

The Waltz of the Flowers:

Clara the child is transformed into Clara the woman so she can dance one time with the Prince:

Drosselmeyer calls for the Grand Finale, dispels the dreams, and returns Clara to the parlor in her home:

The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra must know the Nutcracker score by heart. The music recording is fine although not exceptional for the quality of music we are getting on HDVDs in late 2010. Originally I marked this production down from "A+" to "A" because of motion artifacts. But later the OperaDou Jury gave this production a high grade. We now have several other worthy new Nutcracker discs, but I still think subject San Francisco show is one of the best. So I will overlook the motion problems I noticed before and give this disc an "A+."