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See latest reviews of other albums..., September 2016

The beautiful Paris-born ballerina Agnès Letestu is a wonderfully graceful Marguerite and Stéphane Bullion is a worthy Armand in this lavish Paris Opera Ballet production, conducted by Michael Schmidtsdorff and recorded live at the Palais Garnier in High Definition and full surround sound. All about love, passion, danger and glorious dancing, this is a splendid performance from one of the best ballet companies in the world. © 2016 Read complete review

Donald Feldman
American Record Guide, November 2010

CHOPIN, F.: Dame aux Camelias (La) (Paris Opera Ballet, 2008) (NTSC) OA1008D
CHOPIN, F.: Dame aux Camelias (La) (Paris Opera Ballet, 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) OABD7025D

The costumes were designed and made by the contractor who supplies the Paris Opera, so the ambience of the opera performance was created and maintained; vivid colors and elegant structures. The Blu-Ray image of these costumes is excellent, I was never aware of motion transients or other minor glitches. The audio I presume to be Surround, five channels. It is hard to imagine how this romantic classical ballet could be improved on.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

James Reel
Fanfare, November 2009

Choreographer John Neumeier’s setting of the same story that inspired La traviata is beginning to take hold in companies beyond Neumeier’s own Hamburg Ballet, and with good reason. The choreography is challenging but graceful, and the entire presentation—at least when under Neumeier’s direct supervision—abounds in natural psychological nuance that’s more sophisticated than even what Verdi could muster in his opera. The music, perfectly integrated with the story and stage action, is by Chopin, and the story itself, however familiar it may be, remains touching and has been particularly humanized in Neumeier’s treatment.

That story originated with the younger Alexandre Dumas; it’s a fictionalized account of his affair with Marie Duplessis, a consumptive courtesan who died at age 23. Dumas called his lovers Marguerite Gautier and Armand Duval, and he drew parallels between their story and that of the ill-fated Manon Lescaut. The novel, La dame aux camélias (“The Lady of the Camellias,” after the heroine’s signature flower), was an instant success and within a week of its publication had been adapted for the stage. Verdi’s simplified operatic treatment, La traviata, was premiered about five years later, and there ensued a long series of new stage adaptations and film treatments up through our own time.

In many ways, Neumeier’s ballet is the most faithful to Dumas, despite—or perhaps because of—its absolute lack of language. Neumeier adopts the author’s flashback structure, opening the story as the late Marguerite’s estate is being sold off. Daringly, he also denies his lovers a grand pas de deux as a finale; their last big moment together, during a brief interruption in their estrangement, comes a couple of scenes before the ballet’s end. As in the novel, Armand reads about Marguerite’s decline and demise in her diary.

On this new Blu-ray and DVD of a recent Paris Opera Ballet production, Neumeier is credited as both choreographer and stage director. The latter, most obviously, is because there’s almost no choreography in the opening scene; it’s a presentation of Marguerite’s friends and lovers milling around her apartment as her estate is being liquidated. In other words, the dancers here must perform as silent actors. But, importantly, they continue to do so once the choreography begins. As Marguerite, Agnès Letestu is superb at this; for example, just watch for the variety of her highly nuanced smiles in the early scenes. The rest of the cast is almost as adept at this; Letestu’s interactions with Stéphane Bullion are full of subtleties, as are the gestures and glances among the secondary characters. Video director Thomas Grimm emphasizes that this is much more than a display of bodies in motion by intercutting well-chosen, brief reaction shots with the primary action. Not every moment is entirely successful; an early pas de trois that develops when Armand enters the fantasy world of Manon and her lover, Des Grieux, looks awkward and effortful, but when the dancers are less entangled, the choreography is fluid and psychologically precise.

The music is by Chopin, the original pieces (not “Sylphided” for orchestra), almost all of them presented intact. The whole of the Piano Concerto No. 2 supports the first act; it’s mostly solo items in the second, and a mixture of solo works and compositions with orchestra in the third. The taxing keyboard duties are traded off with sensitivity and security between Emmanuel Strosser and Frédéric Vaysse-Knitter; in the Concerto, support from the Paris Opera Orchestra under Michael Schmidtsdorff could occasionally be more incisive, but it serves its purpose. Jürgen Rose’s costumes are superb, suggesting the authentic garb of 1840s Paris while also lending themselves to movement (except that Letestu often has to pull her long skirts away from Bullion’s face during the lifts), and reinforcing through color and drape the emotions of each scene. Rose also does a fine job of visually distinguishing the fantasy world of Manon from the “real” world of Marguerite in their few but critical scenes together.

The main difference between the Blu-ray and DVD editions is, as usual, the audio choices; on Blu-ray it’s PCM stereo vs. PCM 5.0, while on DVD it’s either LPCM stereo or DTS surround. Both formats include a nearly hour-long documentary, illustrated synopsis, and cast gallery. The Blu-ray video is sharper and richer, and, in principle, a Blu-ray player really is worth your investment if you have a big enough screen to exploit it.

I haven’t seen the competing DVD issued a couple of years ago by DG, derived from a 20-year-old performance at Neumeier’s home base, Hamburg Ballet. A consumer review at one retail Web site complains that the transfer was made at a slightly accelerated speed, so there’s reason for caution. But Neumeier was present for this new Paris production, and the dancers are models of contemporary French ballet style, so I have no qualms about adopting this as a reference version. Neumeier’s La dame aux camélias is an exquisite unity of music, motion, and emotion.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, November 2009

Milwaukee-born John Neumeier, brought to Stuttgart as a dancer by John \, is the Intendant of the Hamburg Ballet. He has choreographed many ballets, but is probably best know for La Dame aux camélias, to music by Chopin (1008 D). It is a masterful conception: the ill-fated love of Manon/Des Grieux is grafted onto Dumas’s familiar story (the plot of La Traviata). Marguerite (“La dame…”) is shadowed by the ill-fated lovers, whose misfortunes increasingly resemble those of Marguerite. It has two representations on DVD, by the Hamburg (Issue 193, Deutsche Grammphon, filmed in 1987) and this new one by the Paris Ballet. Agnès Letestu is superbly moving in this performance; the many other dancers are impressive as well. The music performance is highly competent; Emmanuel Strosser plays solo pieces and one of the piano concertos well technically, if a bit rigidly, because he seems so aware of the need of steady rhythms for the dancers. Other comparisons: Marcia Haydée, star of the DG, is Letestu’s equal in the role, but the Paris version is certainly more chic and better to look at.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2009

In 1978 the great American-born choreographer, John Neumeier, created La Dame aux camelias for the greatest ballerina that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, Marcia Haydee. He used exactly the same story by Alexandre Dumas as we see in Verdi’s popular opera, La Traviata, just a few additions, including a ballet within a ballet, and the added sub-plot story of Des Grieux and Manon Lescaut that was used by Puccini in his opera. The music is by Chopin, both in the form of a piano concerto and solo piano works, used with subtlety and skill, and here performed so beautifully. Sadly the accompanying booklet tells you little about the works used and its relationship with the action. It is certainly a substantial ballet that lasts well over two hours split over three acts. It has its moments of athleticism, but it is essentially a attractive vista of beautiful movements. It is performed by members of the Paris company and guest artists, the production using Jurgan Rose’s highly attractive costumes and sets that delight the eye. The leading roles of Marguerite and Armand are danced by Agnes Letestu and Stephane Bullion, Bullion’s typically French face looking both young and emotionally fragile which adds the ideal dimension to his immaculate dancing. Letestu moves from the sophisticated courtesan to the young woman who sees this as her opportunity to find true love that she grabs with tenacity. She has that type of body that speaks, and technically she is immaculate. The remainder if the cast is uniformally excellent, and the two piano soloists, Emmanuel Strosser and Frederic Vaysse-Knitter, are worthy of a solo recording for such performances. The DVD was recorded at the Palais Garnier, Paris in July 2008, the ballet itself ideal and encourages filming in close-up. There is also an interesting and extensive documentary ‘Flashback on the Lady of the Camillias’, and you can source the sound in either straight stereo or surround sound. I still find most of the booklets that accompany DVD’s woefully inadequate but this is better than most and the still pictures are of gorgeous quality. In sum, this is a ballet film you must not miss.

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