The afternoon got to a promising start with the corps du ballet being in great form and being my first matinee at Covent Garden it felt very different. The audience was rather mixed. With the usual overdressed madams of the Home Counties (looking more like they belonged on the stage than the orchestra stalls), some of the usual dancey crowd (waiting to castigate the Italians’ technique) and a large smattering of families (trying to expand the horizons of their children while not falling asleep in the process). The most obvious difference in the behaviour of the crowd was their clapping which reminded me of a west end musical. They would clap every time Aurora and the Prince will come on stage…which was unneeded and anyway 19th century ballets allow plenty of space for applause anyway!
This work being one of Nureyev’s earliest choreographic efforts is suffering too much with his stamp on Petipa’s beautiful classical line, most gestures and attempts to characterisation were smothered with lavish amounts of over-ornamentation. A simple ensemble rondo would turn into the most complicated affair known to man! Thankfully Aurora‘s part was not touched by Rudolph’s heavy handed approach, may be owing to the great (meaning assertive) divas of his time like Fonteyn. Who they would not tolerate changes to the traditional Petipa choreography which is always the golden standard and the measure to judge Aurora‘s performance.
The most distinct aspect of the work as staged by La Scala was the over-emphasized role of the Prince (created for Nureyev himself) and especially in the third act the steps were so personal to him and his incredible ability to create high jumps out of nowhere. Massimo Caron who performed for us was very virile but he looked out of his depth when he had to deal with the demanding high jumps of the third act, to the point of almost narrowly escaping a fall. His part is custom made for Nureyev and his very personal and very powerful dancing style that very few dancers could match. Unfortunately when his choreography is being executed by anyone else it becomes a hollow vehicle that fights against the frothy 19th century heart of this ballet. In a way it reminds me of the 1964 Zeffirelli Tosca at Covent Garden which was made for Callas and her famously charismatic stage persona. Most sopranos that filled Tosca’s shoes did not really possess the same strengths as Callas and you could always feel the loss of the pre-requisite acting ability. After so many years on the stage those singers tended to approach the role as Callas impersonators, trying to be her by assimilating her stage behaviour. Luckily the administrators of the Royal Opera saw sense and got the production out of its misery in 2005. Maybe La Scala Ballet should follow their lead and retire this Sleeping Beauty and allow a new choreographer to put his/her stamp on this piece.
I will not bore any more readers by commenting on the overblown sets and the rather glitzy costumes.
All in all a missed opportunity for La Scala