The Winter's Tale


The Winter's Tale ballet. Music by Joby Talbot. Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. Recorded 2014 at the Royal Opera House. Stars Edward Watson (Leontes, King of Sicilia), Lauren Cuthbertson (Hermione, Queen of Sicilia), Sarah Lamb (Perdita, Princess of Sicilia), Joe Parker (Mamillius, Prince of Sicilia), Zenaida Yanowsky (Paulina, head of Hermione's household), Bennet Gartside (Antigonus, head of Leontes' household), Federico Bonelli (Polixenes, King of Bohemia), Steven McRae (Florizel, Prince of Bohemia), Thomas Whitehead (head of Polixenes' household), Gary Avis (Father Shepherd), Valentino Zucchetti (Clown, son of Father Shepherd) and Beatriz Stiz-Brunell (Young Shepherdess). David Briskin conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning). Stage band consists of Eliza Marshall on bansuri flute; Gregory Knowles on dulcimer, Ian Watson on accordion, and Rod Farrer plus Jeremy Wiles playing percussion. Designs by Bob Crowley; lighting design by Natasha Katz; projection design by Daniel Brodie; silk effects design by Basil Twist. Directed for TV by Ross MacGibbon. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

If God loves everyone the same, no one can be a stranger.

The Winter's Tale is another all-new and original Royal Opera Ballet production from the same creative team of Wheeldon, Talbot, Crowley, Katz, and Brodie that brought us Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The team created the first ballet libretto ever based on Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale — a libretto painted with both the grandeur of a tragedy and the tear-jerking power of a romance. Talbot's exotic score is completely original and includes an on-stage folk ensemble. As an extra bonus, the team recruited Basil Twist for grand silk effects. Those who are familiar with Shakespeare's ornate play will marvel at the way this production gets in all the essentials of the stage story while taking maximum advantage of the dancing and acting skills of the Royal Opera Ballet performers.

Not every ballet company has someone who could dance Leontes, King of Sicilia, and nobody could dance it better than Ed Watson, shown on the right in the screenshot below. Here Leontes and King Polixenes of Bohemia (Federico Bonelli) demonstrate their friendship since childhood:

Even though this is a traditional production, striking modern effects are including such as realistic physical contact and voiced cheering from the corps. Here Leontes kisses Queen Hermione, danced by Lauren Cuthbertson, one of the best actresses at the ROB:

Leontes and Hermione have a charming if sickly son, Mamillius (Joe Parker), whom they adore. Leontes gives his wife a spectacular emerald necklace that matches an emerald he wears on his tunic:


Polixenes, a bachelor, is on a long visit. He and Hermione are like brother and sister. But when Hermione lets Polixenes feel her second child kicking in her womb, Leontes suddenly develops an irrational suspicion that Polixenes is the father of the unborn child. Watson specializes in portraying disturbed mental states. (For more on Watson's special talent, check out Mayerling, The Metamorphosis, The Judas Tree in The Macmillian Triple Bill, Croma in The McGregor Triple BillOndine, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.) Wheeldon directs him to hold back nothing as we see the berserk King assault his best friend and his wife in the next 5 screenshots:


Polixenes breaks with Leontes and flees back to Bohemia. The Queen is arrested.  She delivers her baby, a beautiful daughter, in prison. Now we meet Paulina (Zenaida Yanowsky) and her husband Antigonus (Bennet Gartside). They are not servants, but a noble couple who serve as heads of household at the court. They are aghast at Leontes' behavior and desperately try to bring him back to his senses by showing him his new-born daughter. Leontes rejects the child, and orders that she be exposed to Fate in a lonely place.  Antigonus takes on this gruesome task. He sails to Bohemia and abandons the baby near the beach. Immediately after that, a bear kills him (and in the play a storm sinks the ship drowning the whole crew):

The Queen is tried and convicted of infidelity to the King:

Mamillius has been watching the trial from the shadows. He dies from the shock of seeing his mother abused, and Hermione collapses. Later Paulina announces that Hermione has also died:

Leontes is now all but consumed with madness and grief. Paulina pummels him into submission. Now a widow herself, she will become a kind of guardian for the incompetent King. Paulina has the most important supporting role in this libretto, and Wheeldon gives her many interesting moves throughout the show. You might wonder why she doesn't marry the King now and become Queen. Well, there is a reason, but this will not be revealed until later:

Father Shepherd (Gary Avis) and his son, Clown (child not credited), find the baby with a treasure and Hermione's emerald. They call the baby Perdita:

Sixteen years pass, and Perdita (Sarah Lamb) is preparing to be crowned Queen of the peasant Spring Festival:

She and a peasant lad she knows as Doricles are in love. Doricles is in fact Prince Florizel (Steven McRae), the son of Polixenes. Here they dance to the strange music of the reed flute:

Perdita is of age and Father Shepherd gives her the emerald he has been keeping for her:

After all the grim horrors of Act 1, the audience is treated to spectacular folk dancing under the Tree of Wishes (sorry this screenshot only hints at how beautiful the folk dancing is):

King Polixenes and his Steward (Thomas Whitehead) join the crowd in disguise wearing black hats. In the screenshot below, the King is between the tree and the ladder on your left. He has a guitar around his neck which he doesn't know how to play. The King is exasperated to see what his son has been up to:

A peasant wedding. Florizel isn't just slumming. He loves Perdita and is ready to give up the throne to have her as his wife:

Polixenes calls in the cops and everybody is busted. Perdita and her family are condemned to death:

But the criminals escape and flee by ship to Sicilia, where they hope to find refuge with King Leontes. The figure on the left is Clown (Valentino Zucchetti), the son of Father Shepherd and "brother" of Perdita:

Daddy and Steward in hot pursuit:

Meanwhile on Sicilia, Leontes and Paulina are both still in mourning after 16 years. Here they visit a monument to Hermione and Mamillius. We are now back in tragic mode. Zenaida Yanowsky dances and acts here with enormous gravitas (contrast this to her riotous comic role as Queen of Hearts in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland):

Leontes has regained his sanity, but lives in a perpetual state of remorse. He is overwhelmed by the plea for help from Prince Floristan and Perdita. He agrees to intercede for them with his still-estranged friend Polixenes:

Polixenes arrives and there is an angry scene as he accuses his son of messing around. Suddenly, Paulina spots the emerald necklace!


The father-daughter recognition scene:

Polixenes is so relieved to discover that his son is in fact in love with an eligible Princess. The mad pursuit turns into a grand reconciliation:


Paulina then invites Leontes to visit a new monument to Hermione and Mamillius:

The statute comes alive! Paulina reveals that she falsely reported the death of Hermione after the trial and has been keeping her in hiding for 16 years:

And now the orphaned Perdita is in one day united with both her lost father and lost mother, and her parents find each other to boot:


The only person who is left out from all this joy is Paulina, who has managed to guide everybody else to a soft landing. (In the play, Leontes finds a suitable husband for her after she is relieved from her duties as guardian of the King.)

This exemplary show has a chance to become a modern classic that will be revived all over the world by ballet companies big enough to mount it. Joby Talbot may in the future be seen the same way as we now see Prokovief for his Romeo and Juliet ballet music. The Royal Opera House Orchestra under David Briskin does a fine job with Talbot's challenging music. Sound quality is fine. The ROB happened to have a stable of principal dancers talented enough to fill all the roles with no help from outside. Although these screenshots don't show it, the sets and props are impressive. Ross MacGibbon's picture quality and picture content are excellent. Wheeldon himself suggests that first-time viewers of this should bone up on the Synopsis; but after reading this review, you should have no problem enjoying the show in your home theater right out of the package. It's hard to see how this title could be improved on, so the grade has to be "A+."

Here are two clips from Opus Arte about this show: