The Nutcracker


Nutcracker ballet. Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (died 1893) to libretto by Marius Petipa (died 1910). Choreography by Vasily Vainonen (died 1964); production design by Simon Virsaladze (died 1989). Performed 2011 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Peterburg. Stars Alina Somova (Masha the Princess), Vladimir Shklyarov (Nutcracker Prince), Alexandra Korshunova (Masha), Vladimir Ponomaryov (Stahlbaum), Alexandra Gronskaya (Madam Stahlbaum), Alena Mashintseva (Luisa), Pavel Miheyev (Franz), Fyodor Lopukhov (Drosselmeyer), Lira Khuslamova (Grandma), Stanislav Burov (Grandpa), and Valeria Karpina (The Nanny). Valery Gergiev conducts the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre; directed by Andreas Morell; photography directed by Axel Rothenburg. No credits seem available for living persons who worked on the sets, costumes, or lighting. Producers were Jan Bremme and Isabel Iturriagagoitia Bueno; Executive Producers were Bernd Hellthaler and Torsten Boenoff. Released 2012, stereo music was recorded a 48kHz/24-bit and surround sound at  48kHz; disc has 5.1 dts sound output. Grade: D+

This traditional-style show is a revival of an old production. I think the sets and costumes were maybe newly made; but the boring color scheme (Act 1, rose and mustard; Act 2, blue and gray; Act 3 pink and pink) dates the show.

The three star dancers here, Somova, Shklyarov, and Korshunova, are impeccable and charming. This was probably a delightful show for the older set at the Mariinsky. I liked the 18th century charm, the magnificently creepy Mouse King, the battle scene, the Prince's huge lift of the Princess in Chapter 10, and the Pas de trois for three talented students (who got enthusiastic applause from the audience). I didn't like the snowflakes with those "cotton balls" (which I've never seen except in Russian productions), the mysterious bats at the beginning of Act III, the bland "national" dances in Chapter 14 (other than the students), and the fact that the Prince has to share the Princess with 4 other guys in the Chapter 20 Pas de deux (not very romantic).

Above, a beautiful performance by the beautiful Alina Somova and Vladimir Shklyarov

This lift lasts 17 seconds as Shklyarov crosses the stage in a slow full turn

The orchestra played well. The recording of the music is detailed and intimate. There are, of course, too many shots of Gergiev. (This video appears to have been cobbled together from shots made at a number of performances. Gergiev's beard seems to be different almost every time the camera points at him. For sure, he appears clean-shaved at the beginning and end of the video. But about 4 minutes before the end, you see that horrible full-but-straggly beard that he has in a number of recent HDVDs.)

Video content is OK with an interesting mix of long, medium, and close-up shots. But, alas, making this into a top-notch HDVD was several bridges too far for the cameramen and the non-credited lighting director. Acts 1 (rose) and 3 (pink) suffer throughout from low, fuzzy resolution and a bleached-out, hazy look. Shockingly bad lighting leads to many "hot spots" or wiped out images in all 3 Acts. Too many cuts show video noise and motion artefacts. And a scrim shows up repeatedly, something that should never happen. All this probably explains why Kultur wound up publishing this for Regions A, B, and C. The video isn't good enough for any of the publishers who are trying to create a quality brand.

Above, note hazy low-res look with detail in the white dresses (foreground)  bleached out by hot lights

More haze! Pink enough for you?

An Act 2 scene where the camera could not handle a simple spotlight

The lights on the front of the stage seem consistently too bright (here Act 2)

Now the "hot spot" has moved to center stage (Act 3)

And here we have that pesky scrim

Based on content only, I would probably give this title a "B". But if you want to sell a Blu-ray video of a ballet, your lighting and video folks have to work together to eliminate the kind of errors noted above. If this was our only Nutcracker HDVD, I would probably give this a "C." But we currently other Nutcracker HDVDs that out-class this Mariinsky title. So you would not want to buy this except for some special reason, which leads me to the grade of "D+."