About this Recording
8.554063 - Russian Ballet Favourites

Russian Ballet Favourites

Gayane was conceived as a ballet in four acts and six scenes. Based, in its original version, on a libretto by Konstantin Derzhavin, it was first staged in December 1942 in Perm, where the Kirov Ballet had been evacuated. Choreography was by Anasimova and decor by Natan Altman. It was restaged in Leningrad in 1945 by the Kirov and in 1957 in another version by the Moscow Bolshoy. The composer was awarded the Stalin Prize for his work in 1943. The ballet was based on an earlier work, Happiness, first produced in Yerevan in 1939, and Khachaturian re-used this music for his new score.

The music of Raymonda has proved very much more satisfactory than the original ballet. In 1895 the minor novelist and columnist Lydia Pashkova submitted her scenario to the director of the Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky. After revision this was sent to the veteran choreographer of the Imperial ballet, Marius Petipa. The work was eventually staged at the Marïinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in January 1898, initially with a benefit performance for Pierina Legnani, who danced the title rôle. Sergey Legat took the premier danseur rôle of Jean de Brienne, with Pavel Gerdt in the character rôle of Abderakhman. Sets were designed by Orest Allegri, Konstantin Ivanov and Petr Lambru and costumes by Ekaterina Ofizerova and Ivan Kaffi.

The action of the ballet is set in medieval Hungary. Raymonda is betrothed to Jean de Brienne, a crusader, who is called away to the wars. She is also the object of desire to the Saracen knight Abderakhman, who plans to abduct her. The White Lady (Dame blanche), a guardian spirit of Raymonda's noble family, appears and prevents the abduction, and Abderakhman is killed in combat by Jean de Brienne. The principal action ends with the second act. The third act honours the happy couple, Raymonda and Jean de Brienne, and is sometimes offered now as a separate item in ballet programmes. It consists of a series of divertissements, including the famous Pas classique hongrois.

There have been various re-stagings of Raymonda, either in its original form, or with a revised scenario and adapted choreography, with versions by Pavlova, Balanchin and Nureyev among others. Dyagilev himself took from it a men’s pas de quatre, with Nizhinsky, for his opening season in Paris in 1909. However unsatisfactory the narrative and dramatic structure of the piece, it remains, in the version of the eighty-year-old Marius Petipa, a classic of choreography, while its music has its own lasting attractions. Glazunov shared with Tchaikovsky an ability to handle the short forms that ballet demands, within a coherent wider structure. His evocative score for Raymonda is immensely colourful, whether in the varied set-pieces of the first act, with its romance, its ghostly apparitions and dance of elves and goblins, or in the character dances of the exotic second act or in the final celebrations of the third.

The ballet Spartacus, the score of which was completed in 1954, deals with the slave rebellion led by the hero of that name against Roman domination. The historical Spartacus himself was Thracian by birth, a shepherd who became a robber. He was taken prisoner and sold to a trainer of gladiators in Capua, but in 73 B.C. he escaped, with other prisoners, and led a rebellion during the course of which he defeated the Roman armies and caused devastation throughout Italy. He was eventually defeated by Crassus, a general well known for his wealth, and put to death by crucifixion, together with his followers. It should be added that to Karl Marx Spartacus was the first great proletarian hero, a champion of the people, while the ultimate fate of Crassus, killed in 53 B.C. during the course of a campaign that had taken him to Armenia, might have had a particular significance for Khachaturian.

As a composer Glière followed the Russian romantic tradition, something that brought him official praise in 1948 when the music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich was condemned. In particular his ballet music proved popular The Red Poppy, later known, to avoid the connotation of opium, as The Red Flower, satisfied political choreographic demands and became a well known part of ballet repertoire from 1926 onwards, while the later ballet The Bronze Horseman, completed in 1949, also retained its place in Soviet repertoire.

The Red Poppy (Krasni mak), with libretto and original décor by M. Kurilko and choreography by Lev Lashchilin and Vasily Tikhomikov, was first staged at the Bolshoy Theatre on 14th June 1927, when Ekaterina Geltser danced Tao-Hoa and Aleksey Bulgatov the heroic Captain. Set in a Chinese port, the story of the ballet is simply told. The dancer Tao-Hoa falls in love with the captain of a Soviet cargo ship, to whom she gives a red poppy. Li-Shan-Fu, her manager, plots to kill the captain by having her give him poisoned tea, but she refuses. Later, in a coolie uprising, she saves the life of the captain and is later killed in a coolie uprising by a bullet from Li­Shan-Fu. She hands a red poppy to a little Chinese girl, as she dies, a sign of love and of freedom. Scope is given for divertissements in the second act, a dream-sequence, set in an opium den. Here Tao-Hoa sees a Golden Buddha, ancient goddesses, butterflies, birds and flowers.

As a composer Prokofiev was prolific. His operas include the remarkable The Fiery Angel, first performed in its entirety in Paris the year after his death, with ballet­-scores in Russia for Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, after his earlier ballets for Dyagilev. The idea of a ballet on the subject of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was suggested to him during a visit to Russia in 1934 by Sergey Radlov, who had staged the first Russian performance of The Love for Three Oranges in Leningrad in 1926. Radlov was artistic director of the Leningrad State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, which in late 1934 became the Kirov Theatre, after the assassination of Sergey Kirov, party secretary in the Leningrad area and later a member of the Politburo. The murder of Kirov in 1934 brought the beginning of the Great Purge and there were swift changes in the Leningrad Theatre that led to the rejection of Prokofiev's proposed ballet, which was then taken up by the Bolshoy in Moscow.

Prokofiev completed the piano score in a relatively short time, occupying himself with the work during the summer months of 1935 spent at Tarussa, where other members of the Bolshoy Theatre had holiday accommodation. By October he had started work on the orchestration, but when he played the music through in Moscow to the dancers they pronounced it undanceable. More sensibly they insisted that the happy ending that Prokofiev and Radlov had proposed should be replaced by the original Shakespearian ending, the death of the lovers, an episode that Prokofiev had at first considered impossible in a ballet.

In the event music from Romeo and Juliet was given concert performance in Russia before the ballet could be staged there. The first production was in December 1938 in Brno, the capital of Moravia. Thirteen months later it was danced at the Kirov, with Ulanova as Juliet and Sergeyev as Romeo. The choreography was by Lavrovsky, who annoyed Prokofiev by making changes in the score without previous consultation, a procedure very different from that of the reputedly dictatorial Dyagilev, who had always discussed matters with his composers and choreographers. The Kirov took the production to Moscow, where, in 1946, it became part of the Bolshoy repertoire. The music provides themes associated with the principal characters and with their actions, with love and with conflict. There is room for neo-classical elements in the formal dances at the Capulet ball and elsewhere in the score. The connection of music and narrative is easily apparent from the titles of the episodes of a ballet that is very much in the Russian tradition of full-­length dramatic works, in which the story is important.

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