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Possible Uses for Sylvia


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#1 Michael

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Posted 12 March 2004 - 09:28 AM

I recently listened to a 1960-70ish recording of the (Ashton?) Royal Ballet Sylvia. Delibes's score to Sylvia is less appealing than that for Coppelia. Sylvia reeks of Wagner's most bombastic influence, while Coppelia has more charm, less of a concrete overshoe, and a truer sense of its own identity. The plot also is perhaps too involved:

Nevertheless -- Some of the score to Sylvia is quite extraordinary. Clearly, one could "distill" (a la Balanchine's glosses on Swan Lake, or on Baiser de la Fee) a one Act Ballet of about 40 - 55 minutes from this, which would have great musical integrity and appeal , if done well. Something longer than Balanchine's brief Sylvia Pas de Deux, something more faithful to the score, plot and mood than Balanchine's La Source is to La Source, particularly with respect to plot motifs. And there exists, to "gloss off of," the Ashton version and perhaps Paris Opera or St. Petersburgh performance traditions?

I wonder what folks think. It would seem worthy of an attempt (a good project for a Wheedon--ish work?), worthy of a Diamond Project sort of investment of time and funds, particularly because it would have an undisputably Classical Base to work off of. The choreography could tend towards the Formalist but would nonetheless have the advantage of a Classical Plot, Classical Score Reduction, and Classical Performance Tradition which could then be treated in a Formalist manner by allowing it to break free of a mere rendition.

#2 rg

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Posted 12 March 2004 - 10:37 AM

while the score of SYLVIA strikes me far more happily than it strikes the initiator of this thread, the subject of a 1-act SYLIVA already has precedent.
the only time i had the pleasure of seeing what ashton had done w/ this score was the 1-act reduction made by him for the royal ballet once the 3 act version was no longer being performed. i saw all three perfs. that were shown in n.y.c. in my day: if mem. serves the title role of this 1-acter was alternately taken by m.mason, d.bergsman, and s.beriosova, but i could be off here: british readers can probably tell more definite facts about this reduction of ashton's 'complete' original.
whenever i'd recall the pleasure i had making this reduced ballet's acquaintance, i'd invariably be told how the reduction 'really didn't work' - this from those who had seen the 3-act version. my reaction was that 1-act encapsulation of the work was better than nothing. tho' i'm eagerly looking forward to, and hoping to see, the promised upcoming royal ballet revival of the full work, i'd be looking forward with similar interest if plans were afoot to redo the 1-act version.

#3 Helene

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Posted 12 March 2004 - 03:19 PM

I think it will be interesting to see what Mark Morris does with the score in his upcoming full-length version for San Francisco Ballet.

#4 Michael

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Posted 13 March 2004 - 07:41 AM

Thanks for the responses. Rethinking this inquiry last night, the implicit questions are and were, before one considers a contraction -- What are the virtues of the 3 Act Ashton and what are the virtues of a 3 Act Sylvia in principle. I never had the chance to see the Ashton. Was it well received by audiences and what about critical judgment? I can't easily check, but I believe the original choreography was St. Leon at the Paris Opera?

It is interesting that my seat of the pants critique of Grand Opera and of Classical Music of that era, circa 1870, with Wagner in full bloom, considers Opera to be at the end of its highly classical phase at that time, even a little decadent to my eyes (I would set Verdi and early Wagner, probably Lohengrin as a sort of peak) with classical music almost certainly in stylistic decadence (where I'd set the era of Mendelsohn probably at a peak) . While my seat of the pants view of Ballet History has heretofore viewed Petipa and the St. Petersburg school (approaching the 1890s and the turn of the century) as the cultural flourescence. There is a sort of lag between the flourescences of Opera and Ballet, two arts often performed on the same evening bills, in this view.

But this implicitly denegrates the school of St. Leon, who is then seen more as a source for Petipa and the Russians than for his and his schools own virtues. I wonder if, in the view of persons who know more about it, there is nonetheless some original spark of vitality there which bears investigation, not as refracted through the Russians of 20 to 30 years later, but in its own light (to the degree that such a light can now be focused on such a thing).

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 March 2004 - 02:24 PM

Sylvia was choreographed by Louis Merante, not St.-Léon, and his sensibility was a generation removed from the latter's. What I think is going on artistically in the ballet is an example of a sort of Neo-Classic Revival based on the Salvatore Vigano and earlier models, with Helleno-Roman gewgaws sticking out from everywhere. It more or less parallels the rise of the Beaux-Art style, seen especially in architecture. (Think Corinthian order on steroids)

The original production of Sylvia was rather well-thought-of, and the music even more so. Tchaikovsky commented that his own Swan Lake composed a year later, "was poor stuff compared to it." Ashton's problem came with a lack of interest in a Neo-Classic Revival in his audience when he introduced this work, and also "Daphnis and Chloe", "Tiresias" and any other of his Mediterranean meditations. One London critic said of the genre: "We like psycho-sexo-dramas/lingerie and black pyjamas...." He (Ashton) laid the cause of the production's unpopularity to his imagined jinx of the three-act production!

#6 carbro

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Posted 13 March 2004 - 10:48 PM

"We like psycho-sexo-dramas/lingerie and black pyjamas...." 

:D You have the rest of this lovely piece of poetry, Mel? :grinning:

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 14 March 2004 - 11:07 AM

I've got it somewhere; I'll have to look for it.

#8 Michael

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 09:56 PM

Which goes far to explain the eclipse of Ashton by McMillain. (Surely a fatal moment for the Royal Ballet.)


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