The Sleeping Beauty

 

flare The Sleeping Beauty ballet. Music by Tchaikovsky. Libretto by Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Marius Petipa. Choreography by Marius Petipa as revived 2011 by Yuri Grigorovich. Stars Svetlana Zakharova (Aurora), David Hallberg (Prince Désiré, Maria Allash (Lilac Fairy), Alexey Loparevich (Carabosse), Artem Ovcharenko (Bluebird), Nina Kaptsova (Princess Florine), Andrei Sitnikov (King FLorestan), and Kristina Karasyova (Queen). Vassily Sinaisky conducts the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. Set design by Ezio Frigerio; costume design by Franca Squarciapino; lighting by Vinicio Cheli; produced by François Duplat; filmed by Vincent Bataillon. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

[Special note dated October 7, 2016. This title came out in 2012, and I have always considered it an A+  ballet monument.  The first part of the original review with the screenshots is unchanged. But right after the  screenshots, I add new material:

  • First I add a Ballet Wonk Worksheet analyzing the content of Vincent Bataillon's masterful video.
  • I also give this title our new flare designation for work of special quality and importance.]

I recently gave the Moscow Bolshoi and Yuri Grigorovich bad grades for a weak Nutcracker and a disastrous Giselle. In my review of the Giselle, I said, "To protect their franchise, the Bolshoi folks will have to do a lot better than this." What I didn't realize at the time was that the Bolshoi was then undergoing a 6-year renovation of their famous opera house that cost somewhere between $700,000,000 to $1,100,000,000 (that's over a billion dollars). With that kind of real estate project underway, it's easy to understand how managment might get careless about current operations.

But eventually the overhaul was finished. And subject title is a recording (November 2011) of the first show staged in the renovated building---a completely new revival of The Sleeping Beauty. Astonishingly, the Bel Air keepcase and booklet says not a word about this. But I did some research and learned that no expense was spared to make all aspects of this Sleeping Beauty a production worthy of the world's first billion-dollar ballet house. Per Ezio Frigerio himself, “As [this was] the first ballet performed on the reconstructed stage at the Bolshoi, we decided to make a magnificent setting.” In addition to new sets, over 400 new costumes were designed and constructed along plus a record number of wigs. And so it comes to pass that subject title is one of the best ballet videos ever made! The Bolshoi Ballet is back in the game with a big success for everyone, including the TV director Vincent Bataillon, whose work here will please even the most demanding and critical ballet fan.

First let's consider the opening set in a screenshot. The action takes place on a outdoor pavilion to a rich palace near a mythical harbor.  Everything about the set is fabulous: the mysteriously beautiful painting in the background, the incredibly real-looking gates and building architecture, the small stage for the throne, and not to be overlooked, a gorgeous floor mosaic. The royal baby is now on the throne; the King (Andrei Sitnikov) and Queen (Kristina Karasyova) are seated front-right on a small platform. This balmy scene must have been especially pleasant to the Muscovites, who spend a lifetime battling long, cruel winters:  

Here's a better view of the set floor. We are seeing, of course, the christening ceremony for the royal baby Aurora. The famous 6 fairies are in the front-center:

Most of the frames used in this video are long-range, showing the whole stage, or midrange, with all of the dancers visible from head to toe. There are only a few near-shots like this one of some of the fairies:

I include the near shot below mainly to show the sumptuousness of every detail of this production:

Here, I think, is the Candide Fairy (Candor):

And the Miettes Fairy (Breadcrumbs or Generosity). Sorry, can't show all 6:

And the Lilac Fairy (Maria Allash) with her retinue:

The Master of Ceremonies forgot to invite Carabosse, the witch (Alexey Loparevich). Carabosse crashes the event and predicts that the Aurora will one day prick her finger and die. But the Lilac Fairy says she will protect Aurora and sends Carabosse away:

The celebration continues with the most adorable scenes you have ever seen for the children in a ballet school:

Now 16 years have passed and Princess Aurora (Swetlana Zakharova) is being courted by 4 princes:

The famous "Rose Adagio":

Carabosse in disguise gives Aurora a spindle, and Aurora pricks her finger:

But the Lilac Fairy saves Aurora from death by putting her and all the inhabitants of the kingdom under a  sleeping spell:

A century or so has passed. Prince Désiré (David Hallberg) lives not too far from the mysterious ruins at the harbor. Here he is with friends at a park; note the costumes are different than what we saw before:

The friends leave Désiré alone in the park because he is too sad! The Lilac Fairy approaches Désiré, who falls to his knees:

Supported by the Nereids, the Lilac Fairy shows Désiré a vision of Aurora. The Lilac Fairy explains the spell over Aurora.  Aurora can only be awakened by the true, loving kiss of a handsome prince:

The ice-blue Nereid tutus are spectacular on a big screen:

In the background, you see the ruins of the beautiful harbor building we saw in the opening scene:

The Lilac Fairy and Désiré set off on the Panorama to find the sleeping beauty:

The entire sleeping kingdom is still guarded by Carabosse; but her power is trumped by that of the Lilac Fairy and the Nereids:

The most important of a hand-full of close-up shots in this video:

Carabosse is vanquished and the kingdom is restored. There follows a party with such celebrities as Princess Florine (Nina Kaptsova) and Bluebird (Artem Ovcharenko), Puss in Boots and the White Cat, and Cinderella:

And, of course, there is a grand pas de deux for Aurora and Désiré:

The Finale:

And, as the curtain closes, the Apotheosis of the Lilac Fairy:

It goes without saying that the Bolshoi has an endless array of star dancers.  Grigorovich drilled his female corps until they look virtually as good as that of the Paris Opera Ballet. The Bolshoi Theater Orchestra sounded fired up and the sound recording is excellent. I ordinarily don't yearn to see this sort of rarefied opulence; but this video is so good, even I found myself mesmerized in my home theater.

Gordon Smith showed this Sleeping Beauty to his L'OperaDou Jury in December 2013. Here's what Gordon had to say:

The majority of Jury members were very enthusiastic about this production, praising the dancing, the costumes, the sets, etc. However, a few members found the production too traditional and “sweet” for their taste. Also, a few people did not like the video production. This could be because it is comparatively unusual to see so many long shots (in terms of both distance and timing.). This approach does however give a more accurate vision of the performance rather than the rapid sequencing of shots—often with too many close-ups—that we are usually served up with.

Gordon is touching here on the problem of "DVDitis" in our HD Blu-ray discs. Because the resolution of a DVD is so weak, the TV director is forced to use a great many near and close up shots. But with HDVD, the TV director can give the viewer many long-range and full-stage shots as well as the close-ups. We consider this an important benefit from HD resolution. But some consumers are used to seeing more close ups. For them, the Bolshoi approach is perhaps too elevated. These viewers might prefer the Royal Opera House show which is less formal and focuses more on star soloists.

[Now follows new observations from October 2016. When this title first came out, we were struggling with understanding the impact of video content on the audience. We didn't know how important it is in a ballet video to give the viewers mostly whole-body shots presented in long clips that they can watch with less unconscious effort and strain. It had not occurred to us to count clips and run the numbers to show the video content of titles (as opposed to the artistic content).

Well, check out now the Ballet Wonk Worksheet I just ran on this Sleeping Beauty. Even though this Sleeping Beauty is a fast-paced story ballet with an avalanche of dancing stars, Bataillon was able to present 80% of his clips in whole-body form and achieved generally a pace of more than 22 seconds per clip. I don't know of any symphony HDVD published so far that comes close to such a stately and healthy pace from the viewpoint of audience comfort and satisfaction. At the moment, we haven't run the numbers on enough ballet titles to arrive at quality standards, but I expect Bataillon's work here to hold up well as we learn more. With my reinforced understanding of the quality of this title, I continue to grade this A+ and also give it the flare designation.]