George Balanchine’s retelling of Shakespeare is a model of concision, so that the second act is one grand divertissement all brilliantly brought off by the Scala forces. Once again we are faced with the inevitable conclusion that Balanchine was an all-around genius, with Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle particularly noteworthy as Titania and Oberon.
Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream has inspired masterpieces from two of the 20th century’s most important choreographers (which has not discouraged others from trying). This is the second DVD of Balanchine’s version (see Fanfare 31:4 for Andrew Quint’s take), while Frederick Ashton’s Dream has been filmed only once. Most unusually, neither work has been filmed by the company with which it and the choreographer have indissoluble links. Balanchine has taken the Mendelssohn score in its entirety and used other music by the composer to fill out the ballet. None of the pieces is chopped up but somehow he found the way to tell us the story with clarity, dispatching the details in the first act. The second act is devoted to the wedding celebrations with a return at the end to show us the reconciliation of Titania and Oberon and Puck delivering his epilogue. The Scala forces include such stars as Alessandra Ferri (also Titania in the DVD of the Ashton) and Roberto Bolle, who inhabit their roles of Titania and Oberon while tossing off the difficulties of the choreography. Riccardo Massimi’s Puck is a worthy foil to his master Oberon, cavorting nonstop when he is on stage. The lovers and Bottom and his companions contribute with verve to the storytelling. Marta Romagna and Mick Zeni give the pas de deux in act II an élan, further enhanced when the three marital couples join in the final section. If there are still some who think that Balanchine is all abstraction and/or classicism, this is a convenient reminder that he was no slouch at telling a story. Almost 50 years after its creation, Midsummer Night’s Dream retains its freshness and vitality. Highly recommended.