, November 2009
La fille mal gardée has a long and convoluted history dating back to its first production in 1789 at the Grand Théâtre, Bordeaux, where it was staged by Jean Dauberval to a largely anonymous score utilizing various contemporary popular tunes. It then entered the repertoire of the Paris Opéra in 1828 with new music composed and arranged by Ferdinand Hérold. He retained a few melodies from the original score, composed a substantial amount of his own music, and added some popular operatic excerpts by Rossini, Donizetti, and others. Peter Ludwig Hertel composed a new and much more heavily textured score for the Berlin Court Opera in 1864. This was more in tune with the tastes of the time. Hertel’s version was subsequently produced at the Bolshoi Ballet in 1885 and survived in various forms until Frederick Ashton decided to revive it with a new score freely adapted and arranged by John Lanchberry for the Royal Ballet in 1960. It was clear to Lanchberry that in order to achieve the delightful pastoral tone envisioned by Ashton that it would be necessary to base his arrangement on Hérold’s superior version, interspersed with passages actually composed by Lanchberry himself. The 1960 Covent Garden production was a spectacular success and has become a ballet classic revived repeatedly throughout the world. This lengthy history of La fille mal gardée is important because every version contributed in some way to the triumph of the Ashton-Lanchberry masterpiece. The Clog Dance is apparently the only surviving section based on elements of Hertel’s score.
Music-lovers and audiophiles were introduced to the seductive, melodic charms of La fille mal gardée by the sensational sounding 1962 Decca recording of extended excerpts played by the very same Covent Garden Orchestra conducted by Lanchberry. That performance and the ongoing success of the ballet led to a complete Decca recording by the same artists in 1984. This Blu-ray disc is stunning. The brilliantly colorful sets and costumes perfectly project Ashton’s delightful vision originally inspired by Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony. Marianela Nuñez (Lise) and Carlos Acosta (Colas) generate remarkable chemistry as the young lovers. Nuñez accomplishes the near impossible: she not only holds her own, but is clearly the star of the show opposite the charismatic Acosta. Her dancing has a soft, lyrical elegance that fits the bucolic atmosphere of La fille mal gardée ideally without slighting her technically dazzling footwork. She connects directly with Acosta and the audience. If you think that this is a long way from Acosta’s macho turn in Khachaturian’s Spartacus, you are correct, but Acosta pulls it off convincingly. He projects an appropriately boyish charm, and his natural charisma prevents him from being a mere prop for Nuñez. This is great stuff! William Tuckett is also delightful in the comedic role of the Widow Simone. Despite the personal virtuosity of the principals, they blend remarkably with the production overall. Conductor Anthony Twiner doesn’t match the incisive, rhythmic snap of Lanchberry’s speedier interpretation, but his emphasis on the lyrical aspects of the charming music works well.
This is probably the most technically gorgeous Blu-ray disc I have seen so far. As such, it is required viewing and listening for ballet-lovers. La fille mal gardée is also an ideal vehicle to introduce reluctant new viewers to the world of ballet. Clearly Want List material.