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Paul Corfield Godfrey
MusicWeb International, November 2012

That of The Nutcracker employs the same choreography by Sir Peter Wright that was originally commissioned for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, but with new sets by Maria Björnson. The informative booklet note tells us that the original Ivanov choreography is largely lost, but that Wright has incorporated the preserved Dance of the snowflakes in his own choreography. Given the very conventional staging accorded to this number, the restoration would appear to be unwarranted. Elsewhere Wright brings plenty of life to the various set-pieces, incorporating the principals into the heart of the action. He has gone back to the original Hoffman short story on which the ballet was ostensibly based. The result not only brings a better dramatic cohesion to the very disparate plot but also provides a link between the two Acts which originally had hardly any connection with each other.

The dancing of the two young principals, Iohna Loots and Ricardo Cervera as Clara and her enchanted Nutcracker, is characterful and enchanting, as is Gary Avis, the cloak-swirling Drosselmeyer. On the other hand the Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy in the Land of Sweets are more conventionally balletic, and during the curtain-calls they are given what would appear to be unwarranted star billing…The Covent Garden orchestra…playing is superb here, with plenty of Tchaikovskian body and sweep under the sympathetic baton of Koen Kessels.

The production of Hänsel and Gretel, on the other hand, is updated. This production is also updated. Costumes and sets are austerely reminiscent of the 1940s and 1950s although there are touches that are more recent.

Angelika Kirchschlager is a very believable shock-haired boy, and brings Hansel’s boredom and mischief to life with great panache. By his side Diana Damrau is a little overly gawky, but the inter-reaction between the two children rings true to life. Elizabeth Connell is a downtrodden mother, exhausted rather than bad-tempered, and she sings with firmness and body. When the father arrives Thomas Allen approaches believably from the distance, carrying plastic bags…He points his words excellently, but the same observation can be made regarding all the singers. The delicious profile of the music as delivered is picked up by the orchestra under a most responsive conductor.

You would have to be a hard-bitten child—or adult—not to be absolutely enchanted by both these performances. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

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