Peter Wright’s Venerable Nutcracker as Lively as Ever

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker: Royal Ballet, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Tom Seligman (conductor), viewed at Vue Piccadilly Cinema, London, 12.12.2013. (MB)

Sugar Plum Fairy – Laura Morera
Prince – Federico Bonelli
Herr Drosselmeyer – Gary Avis
Clara – Francesca Hayward
Hans Peter/Nutcracker – Alexander Campbell

Peter Wright (production, scenario)
Julia Trevelyan Oman (designs)
Mark Henderson (lighting)
Christopher Carr (staging)

This was my first experience of ballet in the cinema and, I suspect, an excellent starting-point. Indeed, though an in-the-theatre experience will always be different, more immediate, for all the problems that can entail too, this live cinema relay seemed to me to possess advantages over the unmediated version – far more so, indeed, than my two viewings to date of opera in the cinema (Götterdämmerung and The Tempest, both from New York). Though one would think that this would apply to opera and ballet alike – and maybe it does more generally – close ups, at least as much of the dancers’ visual expressions as anything else, seemed far more telling here than in either of those operatic experiences. Perhaps that was as much testament to the excellence of the principals as to the form itself, but the greater depth of characterisation afforded was much appreciated.

Peter Wright’s venerable, yet far from tired, 1984 production was also doubtless an excellent choice. The curmudgeon in me might ask whether there is not room for a more ‘adult’, disturbingly Freudian version, yet Wright’s often magical evocation certainly does not preclude one thinking and exploring such thoughts for oneself. Just as in opera, the better productions open up possibilities, have one pose questions, rather than attempt to answer them all for themselves. ETA Hoffmann remains, then, for those willing to be more than passive spectators, whilst there is much spectacle – though far from empty spectacle – as anyone other than the most vulgar could desire. Childhood memories of Christmas, and/or memories of childhood Christmas, come together in the party, splendidly portrayed by all concerned, and there is a proper sense of broadening of focus following the interval.

The dancers all seem enlivened, liberated even, by the opportunities Wright’s production offers. Gary Avis’s Drosselmeyer appeared as a duly ambiguous figure: manipulative, yet to what end? Francesca Hayward offered a graceful Clara, her Hans Peter, Alexander Campbell, perhaps still more impressive: boyish, yet with admirable strength. Likewise Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli both impressed, whether in solo or partner work, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince. Perhaps I might have wished for a little more delight in Morera’s response to the score, but there could be no doubting the technique.

It was, moreover, a merciful relief to attend a performance that went uninterrupted by the behaviour of small children (or rather, by the inability or unwillingness of their parents to restrain that behaviour). Interruption, such as it was, came only from the applause on screen; how I wish here, just as in opera, people would refrain until the end of an act! Tchaikovsky’s score no more deserves such response than his Fifth Symphony does. Tom Seligman offered a well-shaped, commendably incisive traversal of the score. My sole reservation was, alas, that which I have almost always felt upon visits to the ballet, namely, regret that a more substantial orchestra had not been employed. Though this was the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, the string sound was often emaciated; the score needs just as much attention in this respect as does that for Eugene Onegin. Still, wind and percussion often sounded magical, imparting a quickening spirit to the moment of the narrative and to the longer durée. For the most part, then, an enchanting evening, and via the cinema, an evening to be enjoyed by many more than would otherwise have been the case.

Mark Berry

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