"Return of the Firebird"
STRAVINSKY: The Firebird. Petrushka. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade.
Original Ballet Russe productions, with the Bolshoi State Academic Theatre Orch/Andrey Christiakov, cond.
DECCA DVD 440 079 322-9 TT: 120 min.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake Ballet
Rudolf Nueyev/Margot Fonteyn/Vienna State Opera Ballet/Vienna Symphony Orch/John Lanchbery, cond.
PHILIPS DVD 440 070 201-2 TT: 107 min.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake Ballet
Maya Plisetskaya/Nicolai Fadeyechev/Bolshoi Theatre Ballet/Orch/Yuri Fayer, cond.
VAI DVD 4261 TT: 80 min.incl bonus: Plisetskaya dancing The Dying Swan

DELIBES: Coppélia
Leanne Benjamin (Swanilda); Carlos Acosta (Franz); Luke Heydon (Dr. Coppélius); Leana Palmer (Coppélia); Royal Ballet/Royal Opera House Orch/Nicolae Moldoveanu, cond.
BBC OPUS ARTE DVD 0A 0824D TT: 120 min. incl. features


"Return of the Firebird" is a movie recreating original Ballets russes productions of Firebird, Petrushka and Scheherazade, directed by Andris Liepa (who dances leading male roles in all three ballets), filmed in Russia's Mosfilm studios. This is a major release for balletomanes. Liepa is a brilliant, pathetic (as he should be) Petrushka, with Tatiana Reletskaya a perfect Ballerina. He also is superb as the Prince in Firebird, with Nina Ananiashvili a dazzling Firebird. Scheherazade (not the complete score in the ballet) is voluptuous throughout with Victor Yeremenko as the Golden Slave and the incredibly exotic Ilze Liepa as Zabeida. Camera work is first-rate; you'll see angels of the performance you couldn't see in performance, all imaginatively presented with dazzling colors—and the 5.1 surround sound exemplary. You'll get views of the performance you couldn't see in performance, all imaginatively presented with dazzling colors. There also is a 17-minute feature of rehearsals for this film. Definitely recommended!

The two DVDs of Swan Lake are a different story. The Philips issue is a 1966 film production, without an audience, of Rudolph Nureyev's choreography for Tchaikovsky's magnificent ballet. It's a busy event indeed which focuses on Prince Siegfried (Nureyev) wearing so much makeup as to suggest Michael Jackson—but, the dancing is magnificent. and here we have the opportunity to see the Nureyev-Fonteyn team in a classic score. Other leading dancers aren't identified anywhere, not even Rotbart. There are a lot of swans, too many perhaps, and they are not as well-coordinated as they should have been. The image of the Prince being drawn into the lake at the ballet's conclusion is very effective indeed. The Vienna Symphony under John Lanchbery's direction has a few rough spots. This video has been a best-seller for more than a decade and probably will continue to attract on DVD. The sound isn't really "surround," but the digital reprocessing at least spreads the sound about.

The other Swan Lake DVD is valuable but frustrating. It dates from 1957, in color but with monophonic sound. Admirers of the great Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya surely will wish to have it, as it displays her in one of her most famous interpretations. Nicolai Fadeyechev is Prince Siegfried and V. Levachev, Rothbart, with the Boshoi Theatre Ballet and Orchestra conducted by Yuri Fayer who is famous for his many CD recordings of Russian repertory. However, Swan Lake is not presented complete (not indicated in the DVD notes), and frustratingly, several times during climactic points of the ballet, particularly in the dramatic final scene, we are forced to look at members of the audience instead of the dancers (!!!!). Inexcusable, but that's the way it is. Most welcome is the brief bonus of Plisetskaya's touching performance of The Dying Swan (in black and white). There's much of value here, ballet buffs surely will be interested, but you are forewarned of what to expect.

Leo Delibes' Coppélia has been a favorite ever since its premiere in Paris in 1870. Tchaikovsky admired both Coppélia and the composer's other hit, Sylvia, which followed six years later. Diaghilev called the former, "the most beautiful ballet in existence, a pearl which has no equal in the ballet repertory." In three acts, Coppélia is the story of a mechanical doll so realistic everyone thinks she is alive. It's an enchanting ballet with many nationalistic dances and brilliant solos. In addition to Coppélia, the DVD also includes an historic10-minute film The Ballet Moves, an illustrated biography of Sir Osbert Lancaster, designer of this production, and the complete TV commentary by Deborah Bull for the original telecast. This is in fine surround sound, but there are only four channels—enough to add presence and a "you are there" atmosphere.

R.E.B. (January 2004)