Notes on Giselle

On Thursday evening I went to see the Paris Opera Ballet's performance of Giselle.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of everything I know about ballet I have learned some time in the last ten months by osmosis, so this is more a ramble than an actual review.  I have now reached the point where I can usually spot the big mistakes, of which there was one: the male lead stumbled badly during a variation in the second act.  The third male dancer with a solo (if you have a solo, but your character does not have a name, where does that put you in the hierarchy? I have no idea) also was somewhat unsteady during his pas de deux.

I still find it mildly confusing that ballets are often, if not usually, referred to as [choreographer]'s [ballet].  I realize that the dance is the main thing, but I am much more familiar in most cases with the music.  For instance, the Mariinsky will be in town in October with what I would have naively called Prokofiev's Cinderella, but the playbill calls it Ratmansky's Cinderella.

At any rate, Giselle's music was composed by one Adolphe Adam, a French composer who I happen to know now was almost exactly a contemporary of Berlioz, though musically less ambitious (and perhaps therefore less famous).  For the most part the score is good but not superb - fairly unremarkable, in fact.  However, at one point a climax of the dance of spirits in the second act is marked in the choreography by a repeated figure of what I will call a traveling arabesque.  Physically it is incredibly impressive; and the music here abandons its quiet eeriness for a dramatic build.   Unfortunately, Adam's score is here, if not actually in a major key (and I think it might be), still somewhat martial rather than ominous, making the effect somewhat comical, which breaks the mood rather thoroughly.  It was, true, not helped by the stage of the Kennedy's opera house, which registers every footstep, and thus had the effect of emphasizing the beat and therefore the marche of the music.  (I imagine that is a common problem though - I can not think there are too many stages anywhere in the world specifically designed to deaden the sound of pointe shoes.)

On the whole, though, the show was excellent.  The company struck me as a very technically focused one (where the Bolshoi, which did Coppelia a while ago, seemed more dramatic - though the ballets themselves are also very different).  The set was superb - I am still accustomed to college and community theater sets, so I find these fancy professional ones especially striking by comparison.  I particularly noticed the acting: while ballet acting is by necessity somewhat stylized, the "style" here was not overwhelming the story.  I imagine that there has to be some tendency similar to the actor who keeps trying to "do Shakespeare" instead of focusing on his part, but it was not evident here.

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