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Can this story be saved?


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 06 March 2002 - 12:15 AM

If you were staging Raymonda today, how would you handle the story? (Which, for those who may not have seen it, or read the libretto, is one of the more farfetched ballet stories. A Hungarian princess visiting her French cousins, as she's marrying a French knight, but he goes off to the Crusades, but a Saracen happens to be passing through and captures her, but she staves off a Fate Worth Than Death by dancing for him, but the fiance comes back in time to save her.)

I remember reading in David Vaughan that Karsavina urged Ashton to choreograph a "Raymonda" and said she'd help him with the story. Sigh. Another opportunity lost.

What does one do? Look at the story and figure out how to make it clear? Trim? Other options?

#2 doug

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Posted 06 March 2002 - 05:05 PM

Hesitating ever so slightly, I would argue that the story is fine as Petipa first conceived it. That said, Petipa changed the story prior to the premiere, so Raymonda has never, to my knowledge, has never been presented as first conceived, or as Glazunov intended in composing his score.

I think Raymonda is actually French, but I could be wrong. She is the Countess de Doris and lives with her Aunt, the Countess Sybille, canoness, in Provence. (In the notations, Nikolai Sergeev refers to Sybille as Raymonda's mother - no one seemed to really know the story, even back then.)

Raymonda's fiance is Jean de Brienne, a Hungarian knight, who, at the beginning of the ballet, is already off fighting in the Crusades.

Act I, Scene I, is Raymonda's name day (Alexandra Danilova called it Raymonda's birthday) and there is a celebration with court and peasants paying tribute to Raymonda. A messenger brings a letter stating that Jean will return from the Crusades the following day to wed Raymonda. Raymonda orders a cour d'amour (court of love) to be organized for the next day. During this scene, Sybille also reprimands idle courtiers by telling them that if they do not fulfill their duties they will not be blessed by the White Lady,
protector of the house of Doris (there is a statue of her upstage center).

In Act I, Scene 2, the White Lady comes to life and shows Raymonda a vision of herself dancing with Jean de Brienne. Then she shows Raymonda a vision of a Saracen knight, Abderrakhman, who wishes to seduce Raymonda. After a long mime action scene, Raymonda faints and her friends find her outside on the lawn.

Act II is the cour d'amour. Abderrakhman shows up instead of Jean de Brienne and it appears that Raymonda's nightmare will come true. But Jean de Brienne, accompanied by King Andrei II of Hungary shows up. Jean and Abderrakhman fight a duel, Jean kills Ab and everyone is happy.

Act III is the famous wedding scene, held at Jean's place (or Andrei's?) in Hungary.

The plot change Petipa made was having Abderrakhman visit Raymonda during Act I, Scene 1, and try to woo her. When she spurned him, he planned to kidnap her. I think this was a mistake. It takes the surprise away from the vision scene, where we would first see Abderrakhman suddenly replacing Jean in the dream. Act II is also compromised because we already know Ab is planning to kidnap Raymonda. So, I think Ab's intro in Act I, Scene 1, for which Glazunov wrote just a few extra bars of music, makes the next two scenes partly redundant.

I am all for going back to Petipa's original scenario.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 06 March 2002 - 06:11 PM

Very interesting. I wanted to check Beaumont, but I won't have time to really dig into this until ABT goes.

I think having the dream BEFORE the Saracen appears -- so that it's dream fulfillment -- makes more sense than having the abduction a dream. But "Jean de Brienne" doesn't sound all that Hungarian. It would make more sense, to me, for Raymonda to be Hungarian, come to France to wed her fiance, who's French. (But, then, I don't know what "de Brienne" means. That may be a Hungarian region.)

Nationality would make a difference in the final act. If Raymonda is French, she's a guest at her own wedding, dancing "a la hongroise" in honor of her new family -- which could make dramatic sense. If she's Hungarian, she's expressing her personality and nationality through her dancing. Which also makes sense.

I'm always for going back to the original libretto. I think often what happens is that someone can't make sense of something, and then changes a whole scene to accommodate the problem. Three of those, and we're far from the original and nothing makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is for Abderachman to be so far north.

#4 doug

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Posted 06 March 2002 - 06:21 PM

Okay, I think I might have it. I'm reading the original libretto here. Raymonda is French and Jean de Brienne also is French (of course you were right about his name). The wedding is at HIS castle and the Hungarian divertisement is given in honor of King Andrei II of Hungary, who is a guest at the wedding. Jean was doing battle under the banner of King Andrei, that's why the two were traveling together.

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 March 2002 - 08:22 PM

Here's the laugh: Jean de Brienne is an Actual Historical Personage, as is King Andrew II of Hungary. De Brienne was the Crusader king of Jerusalem, and Andrew was his rough contemporary. Andrew is usually depicted as senior in age to de Brienne, while in real history, de Brienne had about 25 years on the Hungarian king.

Knowing that, I've always felt it would make sense for Abderakhman to be de Brienne's seneschal, fresh from Jerusalem, who would deliver the portrait.

#6 doug

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Posted 06 March 2002 - 10:22 PM

Here is a little more confirmation: the original cast list mentions "citizens of Provence" in the list of additional persons.

Mel, that's great logic about Abderrakhman. I'm not sure when the portrait became part of the scenario. It is not part of the original scenario or libretto. Did it originate with Konstantin Sergeev's Kirov version or before that?

Back to the countries of origin issue: interestingly, while the published libretto states that the letter to Raymonda reads that King Andrei will return to his native land (Hungary) and therefore Jean de Brienne will soon arrive in Provence, Petipa's scenario states that the letter reads, "Knight Jean de Brienne has returned, covered with glory, to his native castle [presumably in France]. Tomorrow Brienne will be at the Castle Doris [where Raymonda lives] to celebrate his wedding." But according to the libretto, the wedding ends up being at his castle, "on the slope of an Alpine peak."

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 March 2002 - 10:48 PM

I think it must have come in sometime before Sergeyev's version. I have a piano score for the ballet which has notes in French about the action, and it does mention the picture. It also mentions an "orchestre sur scene" (mostly a brass choir) which means it's not the Sergeyev version! Not a herald trumpet to be seen in that one.

#8 doug

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Posted 06 March 2002 - 10:59 PM

Mel, not to be argumentative, but are you certain the French notes in the piano reduction mention the portrait? If so, could you give me the page number in the score, because I may have missed it?

I have made a composite and comparative description of the action of Raymonda using the original published libretto, Petipa's scenario and notes to himself, the original cast list and list of dances, as well as the piano reduction which was made in conjunction with the premiere. To my knowledge, the portrait is not mentioned in these documents. The French notes in the piano score were included Glazunov and taken verbatim from Petipa's instructions to him for the composition of the ballet.

These documents seem to indicate the a messenger brings a letter to Raymonda, which she takes and reads. When Petipa added the introduction of Abderrakhman in Act I, Scene 1, Ab brought gifts for Raymonda in honor of her name day. Vassals also come to congratulate her. Peasants also come and bring flowers garlands that are subsequently used in the "Valse provencale."

The first physical introduction of both Jean and Ab was therefore in Act I, Scene 2, the vision scene, in which it is at least clear that Raymonda loves one and is terrifed of the other.

[ March 06, 2002, 11:02 PM: Message edited by: doug ]

#9 doug

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Posted 06 March 2002 - 11:06 PM

The "orchestre sur la scene" shows up a couple of times in the ballet. In the full score, six brass (trumpets and tenor cornets, I believe) are required. They play fanfare figures at the "big" royal moments.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 10:24 AM

Actually, it's not a printed score, Doug, it's hand-transcribed, and I got it from the son of one of the Ballet Russes conductors. There are various notes, but most are in French. It's kind of getting flaky and friable, but still interesting. There are a couple of numbers tucked into the back, not attached, that have a couple of variations from "Ruses d'Amour" on them.

(PS. I've got the Belaieff edition, too, but that's my "use copy". Plenty of notes in there, too. All in English. Mine. Some I can even still understand! wink.gif

[ March 09, 2002, 10:58 AM: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

#11 cargill

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 02:31 PM

Ballet Review, Vol 5, no. 2 prints a trainslation of what it says is Petipa's original libretto for the 1898 production including his instructions to Glazunov. There isn't anything about a picture. The numbering is a bit confusing, but Ab doesn't appear until what is described as Scene 2 of the 2nd tableau, when Raymonda is under the control of the White Lady. Just reading the story seems like it is missing the urgency or drama or emotional sweep of Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. The White Lady doesn't really seem to have a purpose (other than to introduce a vision scene, which may be purpose enough!). But this wasn't the verision that finally was produced, because Abderam comes in earlier. David Vaughan, in a review of Nureyev's production, quotes Benois on the first production "The fault lies in the absurdity of the subject, of which nobody could ever make head or tail---which is rather awkward as the performance lasts for three whole hours." Of course I would love to see that production, but I suspect it is really a case that goregous music and great choreography need an emotional outlet to be truly successful.

#12 doug

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 02:53 PM

Mel, you've got a treasure there. Do you know if the transcribed piano reduction is related to the 1946 Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo version of Raymonda by Balanchine and Danilova? The NYPL holds musical sources for that production, as well.

#13 doug

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 03:03 PM

Mary, you've brought up a great point about the relationship of the story to the music and dance. Both Tim Scholl and Roland John Wiley have made the point that Raymonda seems more about dance than story, that the story simply links together the various dance suites. I generally agree with this, although Act I, Scene 1 is mostly about story. From there, the ballet is mostly a series of dance suites: Act 1, Scene 2 is a classical suite; Act II includes both a classical pas d'action and a character suite; and, of course, Act III is the amalgamation of classical and character dance.

But, Raymonda has MORE story than we've seen in any modern productions. To my knowledge, each is missing the character development originally given to Sybille (in Act I Scene 2) and Ab (Act I, Scene 2), and most definitely the character development of Raymonda (in the original, she conversed with everyone - Sybille, her friends, Ab, etc.). With mime essentially gone by the wayside, all her character development has to be expressed through her variations, and this was something never contemplated by Petipa or his late-19th century audience.

By the way, the White Lady does appear later in the ballet, during Jean's fight with Ab. She must have made a pass across the stage or appeared or something during the third part of the battle. Her theme runs quickly therough the orchestra, just before Jean kills Ab. But she is certainly much less present than the Lilac Fairy or Sugar Plum, etc.

I am not fully convinced that an emotional thread is necessary for the music and choreography, or the full-length ballet, for that matter, to be successful. I wonder if that notion is more a modern one. Or perhaps this view was held by most back in 1898, but not by Petipa? (Bach was thought to be outdated by the time he reached old age, too.)

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 09:16 PM

Doug, I think it may have something to do with that, as one of the hands I recognize among the notes certainly looks like Igor Butnikov. Whoever made the transcription had a less-sophisticated left-hand technique than the Belaieff edition.

#15 Alymer

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Posted 08 April 2002 - 11:22 AM

It's possibly interesting to note that the ballet is actually based on a popular novel by Lydia Pashkova. I know for a fact that when Nureyev was mounting the ballet he tried to get hold of a copy of the book, but without success. It would be interesting to be able to compare the original novel with Petipa's scenario and see if the book made more sense - possibly not!


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