, October 2009
Swan Lake contains some of Tchaikovsky’s best known and most beloved music, and it’s given an almost reverential treatment here under the baton of Valeriy Ovsyanikov. That’s not to say there’s not flash and even exuberance in this version, because there most certainly is, especially in some of the ethnic dance moments. The production also benefits from a completely opulent scenic and costume design, and even has a modernist touch or two, notably Odette appearing via “magic mirror” in Act IV. But this is a production steeped in history and tradition, and that love for what has gone before shines through every moment. That will probably endear it to longtime fans of Swan Lake, but may make it seem like more of a museum piece than a living, breathing work of art to those newer to the ballet world.
Nuñez and Soares make an appealingly tragically doomed couple, and Nuñez especially brings a grace and agility to her Odette, as well as a sort of wicked agility to Odile, that make her moments the highlight of this Swan Lake, which is probably as it should be. There’s nothing new or innovative in this production, and that may ultimately be its saving grace. Though the first version of Swan Lake may not have been a world beater, from its 1895 revision on the old adage about not fixing something that isn’t broken could well have been crafted for this masterpiece of late 19th century Romanticism. The Royal Ballet adheres to the adage with alacrity in this production, giving lovers of Swan Lake exactly what they’ve come to expect.
As is usual with these Opus Arte releases, Swan Lake arrives in fairly glorious 1080i via an AVC codec, and offers generally brilliant visuals. Whites are abundantly strong throughout this piece, and detail is excellent enough that the lace ornamenting the swans’ tutus can be seen in all its fine glory. But more impressively, the production design offers a wealth of deeply saturated hues, including some really beautiful purples and blues, that make the enchanted forest most enchanting indeed. Black levels are strong and consistent and contrast is excellent throughout this presentation. My only qualm is in flesh tones, which seemed a little pallid. That said, this is Britain, after all, and maybe it was simply especially rainy around the time this production was filmed for television.
Two excellent sound mixes are provided, an LPCM 5.1 and a 2.0 fold down. From the mournful sound of the oboe which open Swan Lake to the glorious strings and often quite surprisingly robust brass, Tchaikovsky relishes in his command of the orchestra as in few other pieces of his (in fact, he was decried for being too Wagnerian by some contemporary critics). Through it all, the 5.1 mix especially is wonderfully warm and lifelike, with excellent fidelity throughout all frequencies and some very impressive low end in some of the more menacing moments with Von Rothbart. The 2.0 fold down is really quite excellent and displays little of the compressed sound that sometimes occurs with a two channel diminution.
The best extra is a 30 minute featurette with four prima ballerinas discussing the demands of dancing the Swan Queen. A brief interview with producer Anthony Dowell is also included, as is the typical illustrated synopsis and cast gallery. A brief essay is included in the insert booklet.
Swan Lake is one of the most famously demanding ballets in the classical repertoire, and this Royal Ballet version hits every note, figuratively and literally, pretty much spot on. There’s a certain dry air to the proceedings, as if these artists wanted to be very, very careful to get everything just exactly right. That breath of innovation and fresh air may be missed by some, but for lovers of Swan Lake’s vaunted reputation and longstanding traditions, this production should thrill them to no end.