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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Opus Arte Blu-ray 7126

Cinderella, Op. 87

  • Anna Tsygankova - Cinderella
  • Matthew Golding - Prince Guillaume
  • Larissa Lezhnina - Stepmother Hortensia
  • Megan Zimny Gray - Stepsister Edwina
  • Nadia Yanowsky - Stepsister Clementine
  • Remi Wörtmeyer - Benjamin
  • Alexander Zhembrovskyy - Cinderella's Father
  • Erica Horwood - Cinderella's Mother
  • Boris de Leeuw - King Albert
  • Simona Ferrazza - Queen Charlotte
  • Dario Meali - Alfred, Benjamin's Father
  • Jeanette Vondersaar - Madame Mansard
Dancers of the Dutch National Ballet
Holland Symfonia/Ermanno Florio
Choreographer - Christopher Wheeldon
Libretto - Craig Lucas
Set and costume design - Julian Crouch
Assistant to Choreographer - Jackie Barrett
Recorded Live December 26, 2012 at The Amsterdam Music Theater
Bonus Features - Interviews and commentary by Christopher Wheeldon and Jackie Barrett; Interviews with dancers, etc.
Opus Arte Blu-ray OABD7126D 1:58:26 Stereo PCM & 5.1 DTS
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan
Also available on DVD OA1104D: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan

This December 26, 2012 live performance of Prokofiev's Cinderella is the acclaimed new version of Cinderella by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. A co-production of the Dutch National Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet, it was premiered at the Amsterdam Music Theater on December 13, 2012. This version of the story focuses a bit more on reality and somewhat less on fairy tale aspects. Still, it's somewhat a conflation of the two famous versions of the story by Charles Perrault (Prokofiev's choice) and the Grimm Brothers, but Wheeldon's own take on the story is also added into the mix. I can say right off that it is a great achievement and must rank as one of the finest versions of Cinderella ever, and would now be my first choice among video performances of this great ballet.

Let me say further before delving into this ballet version's characteristics and performance that there are some extremely valuable bonus features included on the disc. It contains the usual interviews, commentary, rehearsal scenes and other behind-the-scenes happenings, but what is unusual and of extraordinary interest, at least to me and probably to most ballet mavens, is that you have the option to watch the entire ballet with commentary given by choreographer Wheeldon and his assistant Jackie Barrett, who give some very profound insights into the music, story and how this interpretation was molded.

Now, as for what is in this version… Firstly, there are some cuts and reordering of numbers, but for the most part this is one of the more faithful and complete video versions of this ballet. (Note: ballets in the theater typically feature cuts and reordering of numbers, but on non-video recordings they are usually given complete – of the five versions of Cinderella I have on CD and LP, all are complete, containing all fifty of Prokofiev's numbers and in their proper order.) Let me cite a few of the changes Wheeldon has made to give you an idea of what to expect here.

The first three numbers are given fully and in correct order, but then Court Dance, #21 from Act II ensues, though we are still early in Act I. That number is then followed by the last third or so of #4, The Father. Then the next three numbers are presented in full, but #8 is slightly abridged. After #9 and #10, #14 Grasshoppers and Dragonflies, is presented. Got that so far? Now #11, Second Appearance of the Fairy Godmother, is given. But in this version the Fairy Godmother is replaced by the four Fates. Still following me? Then #12 follows and… Rather than going on further, I'll stop here because I think you get the idea: nearly all of the ballet is presented, but sometimes with numbers reordered.

Let me point out also that despite the liberties taken by Wheeldon he is able to maintain a logical flow in the chronology of the story. I should note here that the dance numbers do not match the track numbers on this Blu-ray disc as Opus Arte combines numbers within tracks, ultimately reducing the total tracks to twenty-nine.

The ballet opens here with a look at Cinderella as a child, happily playing on a swing with her mother and father. Suddenly her mother becomes ill, coughing up blood, and soon Cinderella is at her mother's grave. Some fairy tale so far, eh? Then we see the Prince (named Gillaume) getting into playful mischief in his parents' palace. Soon the grownup Cinderella is shown dealing with her stepmother and stepsisters. In Wheeldon's version stepsister Edwina is evil but stepsister Clementine is not, though she is driven to abuse Cinderella at the behest of Edwina and the stepmother. From here on, the story is less radically different from other Cinderella versions, though there are still some plot developments that are conveyed differently, but always imaginatively.

As for the dancers, I can say the entire cast is splendid throughout. Anna Tsygankova makes a fine Cinderella, coming across, however, as less vulnerable and more capable of determining her own fate than previous Cinderellas. She dances with such grace and athleticism, while conveying a range of emotions. Speaking of conveying feelings, Matthew Golding, as the Prince, is also elegant in his disarming ease of movement, but his facial looks express so much emotion that you must call him a great actor on his feet as well as a first rate dancer. Larissa Lezhnina is fine if slightly understated as the stepmother and Megan Zimny Gray and Nadia Yanowsky are fully convincing as her daughters.

As suggested above, Wheeldon's interpretation of the story is novel in some ways, but his choreography, if a little less bold, may be just as powerful and inspiring in its own fresh and imaginative manner, leaving you to wonder if this version concedes anything at all to those highly praised efforts of Ashton and Ratmansky. Indeed, it is that good, not least because it features appropriate and very colorful costuming, imaginative sets, computer projected images to rival those in the best ballet and opera houses, and brilliant orchestral work. The latter asset comes with thanks to Ermanno Florio, who leads the Holland Symphonia with a total grasp on Prokofiev's style. His tempos are moderate to slightly on the expansive side, wisely allowing the dancers to have a little breathing room.

I spoke earlier of the bonus features and now I must mention a curious statement made by Wheeldon during his comments on the ballet: he says, talking about cuts and suggesting their necessity, that a complete performance of Cinderella lasts three and a half hours! Strange, but of the five complete versions of the ballet I possess, none of them last over two hours, with most averaging around 1:50. Does Wheeldon believe that he actually cut over an hour and a half's worth of music from this ballet? His cuts amount to just minutes – minutes that you could count on the fingers of one or maybe both hands. At any rate, the production here is first rate: sound reproduction, camera work and picture clarity are excellent.

As for other versions of this ballet on video… In 2012 I reviewed an Arthaus Musik DVD of Cinderella here (Arthaus Musik DVD 100235), which was imaginative but irritating at times in some of its aural effects, and features numerous cuts; and three years later I reviewed Gergiev's Cinderella (Mariinsky Blu-ray & DVD MAR0555), finding it quite good but far from perfect as it featured the incomprehensible elimination of the concluding Amoroso. There is also an excellent version from the Birmingham Ballet on Kultur Video with Elisha Willis as Cinderella. As I said at the outset this new Opus Arte version is now my Cinderella of choice, though the Gergiev, with Ratmansky's take on the work, is quite a fine alternative.

Copyright © 2017, Robert Cummings

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