Irek Mukhamedov (Spartacus); Aleksandr Vetrov (Crassus); Lyudmilla Semenyaka (Phrygia); Maria Bilova (Aegina); Gediminas Taranda (Gladiator); Bolshoi Ballet/Bolshoi Theatre Orch/Algis Zhuraitis, cond.
ARTHAUS DVD VIDEO 101 115 TT: 136 min.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Sleeping Beauty
Nina Semizorova (Princess Aurora); Aleksei Fadeychev (Prince Désiré); Nina Speranskaya (Lilac Fairy); Yuri Vetrov (Carabosse); Aleksandr Vetrov (Bluebird); Maria Bilova (Princess Florine); Andrei Sitnikov (King Florestin); Irina Nesterova (Queen); Bolshoi Ballet/Bolshoi Theatre Orch/Aleksandr Kopilov, cond.
ARTHAUS DVD VIDEO 101 113 TT: 145 min.

Margot Fonteyn (Odette); Rudolf Nureyev (Prince Siegfried); Members of the Vienna State Opera Ballet; Vienna Symphony Orch/John Lanchberry, cond.

PUGNI: The Pharaoh's Daughter
Svetlana Zakharova (Aspica); Sergueï (Lord Wilson/Taor); Maria Aleksandrova (Ramzé); Dimitri Gudanov (Le Pecheur); others, with the Bolshoi Theatre Ballet and Orch/Alexander Sotnikov
BEL AIR DVD VIDEO BAC 201 TT: 130 min. + 29 min. features

Khachaturian's Spartacus is given the royal treatment in this superb DVD of a performance taped at the Bolshoi in 1990. The Russian composer's large-scale ballet had its premiere in Leningrad in 1956 with choreography by Leonid Jacobson, two years later it was presented with choreography by Igor Moiseyev. The version presented now is with Yuri Grigorovich's exacting choreography presented the first time in 1968. Spartacus tells the story of the slave hero who, with a group of fellow prisoners, led a rebellion against the Romans. Nicolai Volkov's libretto adds a fictitious lover, Phrygia, who has a number of solos as well as appearing in the famous Adagio; he also added the exotic Greek dancer Aegina—both welcome respites from the overall army/soldier atmosphere. This production/performance is magnificent in every way. Mukhamedov and Vetrov could hardly be bettered as the two leading male leaders, and Semenyaka and Bilova are spectacular. Equally extraordinary are members of the Bolshoi Ballet who dance the numerous intricate scenes with uncommon unanimity. Conductor Algis Zhuraitis is an old hand in this music and leads a vital, exciting performance magnificently played by the first-class Bolshoi Ballet orchestra (end credits rightfully identify solo players). The sound is regular stereo, rich, detailed, solid and totally satisfying. There is another recording of Spartacus (or about half of it) with the Bolshoi which features Vladimir Vasiliev in the title role. He is quite different from Mukhamedov but equally effective as Spartacus and seems a bit more focused in the famous Adagio. Zhuratis again conducts, but this version is far from complete, and the bigger battle/slave scenes (the ones that are included in this truncated issue) are not danced as precisely. However, this new Arthaus video is the one to have - the score is complete. An essential DVD video for those who love ballet, and the list price is less than $19 (the other Bolshoi Spartacus, much abbreviated, has a list of $33).

There already are a half-dozen DVDs of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty including two from the Bolshoi Ballet, two with Rudolf Nureyev, and one a 1955 truncated telecast with Margot Fonteyne. Here is another from the Bolshoi, a televised performance of Petipa's choreography taped in 1989 with a first-class cast, staged by Yuri Grigorovich who choreographed the above-mentioned Spartacus. Aleksander Kopilov conducts a dynamic performance, the stereo sound is broad, spacious and even capturing the dancers' footwork. Color photography is excellent with camera work almost too detailed: in the Introduction we get to see every note played by the cymbalist. There are 54 cuing tracks. This DVD has a list price of less than $19. Swan Lake currently has even more DVD presentations than SB, including the Fonteyn/Nureyev production listed above, already available on Philips (see REVIEW). It does seem odd for DGG now to issue the same production, and at the same list price ($28.99).

Cesare Pugni (1802-1870) was a major figure on Russia's musical scene for decades and wrote several hundred ballets, four operas, two symphonies and a considerable amount of chamber music. His ballet music serves its purpose, to display the dancers, although the music is totally unmemorable, if charming. The Pharaoh's Daughter was premiered in 1862 with choreography by Marius Petipa which has been recreated by Pierre Lacotte in this grandiose Bolshoi production. Sets are magnificent, the corps de ballet huge. The unbelievable plot involves Lord Wilson who is touring Egypt with his servant, unlikely named John Bull. A sandstorm forces them to take refuge in a temple inside a pyramid, and during their opium-induced stay the mummy of the princess Aspica comes to life and changes Lord Wilson into Taor, her lover. The convoluted plot includes a lion hunt, a monkey, a snake, forced-wedding festivities, jumping into the Nile and other improbable happenings; at the end, Lord Wilson awakens and finds all this was a dream. Pharaoh's Daughter offers ample opportunity for spectacular dancing provided in abundance in this magnificent Bolshoi production (the company brought it to the Met during their 2005 visit, but with different dancers). This DVD contains a performance recorded in October 2003. Françoise Duplat was the producer with video direction by Denis Caïozzi; they did their tasks very well. The 5.1 surround sound is excellent, and as bonuses we have a documentary about the ballet and an interview with Pierre Lacotte. There are 22 cuing tracks for the ballet.

R.E.B. (September 2005)