SanderO

Opera Ballet

47 posts in this topic

I was just returning in my car from a business appointment and was listening to Anna Netreblo's CD Sempre Libera which has arias from Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti and Puccini.

And as I listened to several of these arias I saw ballet in my mind's eye. Of course, some opera includes dance and La Traviata comes to mind... and of course, ballet that I am familiar with is choreographed to orchestral music.

Arias are part of a libretto, a storyline and of course this would certainly be reflected in the choreography and staging.

So my rather naive questions are...

Have an choreographers done choreography to opera... such as the lovely arias on Netrebko's CD? To my ear they sounded like they could be wonderful ballet.

If this has been done can you point me to this... and if it hasn't been attempted do you know the reason why? If not, is there some sort on invisible barrier to the practice of ballet choreography of opera arias?

As a side note to this idea... As much as I enjoy opera and some of the amazing productions such as the Met Opera's Zeferelli La Traviata etc... ballet is so elegant and visually much more "musical" to look at. Stunning as Ms Netrebko may be watching her sing, it does not compare to a pas de deux of a Vishneva and Malakhov for example. I must say that some opera productions are stunning visually.

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I imagine a diffculty here would be that dramatic time, ballet time and opera time are very different. (Sorry if my terms are clumsy.) "Dramatic time" is faster than "ballet time," which in turn is much faster than "opera time." Think of how long it would take for Pushkin's Tatiana to recite her farewell to Onegin. Then compare that hypothetical length with the length of the final pas de deux in Cranko's ballet and the final duet of Tchaikovsky's opera, which is quite long indeed.

When Cranko was choreographing his ballet he used Tchaikovsky, but not a note from the opera. Likewise, MacMillan used Massenet for Manon, but again nothing from his opera. There have been several stagings of Lady of the Camellias, but the two versions I've seen used Chopin rather than Verdi's Traviata.

Ultimately I think certain plots lend themselves more to some dramatic forms than others. I'll probably sound like a Philistine, but I think that Romeo & Juliet works better as a ballet than as a play. To my mind, the sight of two dancers pitching themselves recklessly at each other through space captures the exhilarating essence of young love much more effectively than even Shakespeare's poetry. (And definitely more effectively than Gounod's opera, which, to my ears, doesn't even sound like Shakespeare.) I think Othello works best as an opera. A tenor striving with all his might to be heard over a blaring orchestra while singing "Si pel ciel marmoreo giuro" captures the essence of jealous fury perfectly. (Besides "Sangue! Sangue! Sangue!" sounds so much better than "O, blood, blood, blood!") As for the ruthless politicking of Macbeth, I think it's best left to dramatic actors.

Certainly, I've seen choreography to operatic arias of the Baroque period, but these ballets never attempted to put across the content of the original libretto.

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I was not thinking of a ballet choreographed to entire or even edited opera score/libretto. But some opera when I am not aware of the libretto is music with voice and the words are often barely intelligible to those who speak the language anyway.

I have seen ballet done to contemporary music so obviously some choreographers choose the music without a libretto... So to restate the question... has any choreographer selected and aria and done a dance "around" or to it? Not story ballet... non story ballet (don't know the lexicon).

For opera lovers on Ballet Talk... have you ever thought about a dance to an aria? I am getting the impression that this has not been done...

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others will answer this more fully than i, but speaking from what i know best, ruth page was one choreographer whose "specialty" was operas into ballets, using the music of the opera for the ballet score (adapted somewhat in some cases). she did:

Camille (La Traviata)

Revenge (Il Trovatore)

Carmen (Carmen, 3 different versions, one of which, entitled Guns and Castanets, featured Don Jose as a loyalist soldier and Escamillo as an aviator)

Mephistophela (Faust)

Die Fledermaus (Die Fledermaus, or Doctor Bat)

The Merry Widow (OK, so that's an operetta) as The Merry Widow and previously as Vilia.

La Favorita (La Favorita)

The Barber of Seville (Susanna and the Barber)

Not sure whether the list is exhaustive.

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Two years ago Margie Gillis choreographed a plotless piece for Alberta Ballet called Rivers Without Bridges set to operatic arias by Handel. I'm sure there are many other examples.

As for more literal interpretations, there was that production of Orpheus and Eurydice that Balanchine did at the Met back in 1936 which was very controversial because he consigned the singers to the orchestra pit. Decades later Mark Morris did the same thing with Dido and Aeneas and no one batted an eye.

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Thanks Mme. Hermine... How were they? Well received? Are there any videos of these works? Seems like when it's done.. they do an entire opera and not selected arias... Is this true?

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Some were pretty well received and some had more exposure than others. One is available (or was) on video, and that is the Merry Widow, with a cast of dancers mostly from the New York City Ballet, and starring Patricia McBride and Peter Martins, Rebecca Wright and George de la Pena. There aer a lot of films, and if you are in New York, you can go to the Library at Lincoln Center to see them. Some are complete, some are not. Miss Page was pretty good about having her ballets filmed, so there 's a lot there to see.

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Was The Merry Widow the Roland Hynd version done by ABT and PNB?

Roland Petit choreographed La Chauve-souris (Die Fledermaus), and La Scala Ballet performed it this season.

There are more ballets to song cycles, like Robert Joffrey's Remembrances to Richard Wagner's Traume, where the dancing reflects the theme of the song. Tudor's Dark Elegies was set to Mahler's Kindertotenlieder.

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the merry widow with mcbride and martins is the ruth page version. i think the ronald hynd one was out there on video too at one point, though. miss page's fledermaus was also done on television, though it wasn't released that i know of, with galina and valery panov, richard cragun, marianna tcherkassky and danilo radojevic.

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the merry widow with mcbride and martins is the ruth page version.
(Which I would have known if I had read your first post carefully. :blushing: )

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i think the ronald hynd one was out there on video too at one point, though.

The Australian Ballet and National Ballet of Canada productions have been filmed.

Of course, when choreographers undertake ballets like Carmen, Fledermaus and Merry Widow, they nearly always have the scores reorchestrated to remove the vocal parts.

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SanderO, as regards your question whether choreographers ever do a work to an opera aria alone and not to the whole opera, it certainly has been done by the South African Ballet Theatre. I can't remember what work it was - I think something by Puccini. Using opera arias for classical ballet solos is also quite a popular practice in our local ballet competitions (usually teachers chose an orchestrated version of the aria, but not always). As regards using an opera score as a whole for a ballet, Cape Town City Ballet performs La traviata (Verdi), Carmen (Bizet), Rosalinde (Die Fledermaus - Strauss) and The Merry Widow (Lehar) to the original opera scores (without the singing, of course).

Hasn't Roland Petit used part of Tchaikovsky's opera score for his ballet of Pique Dame, recently staged for the Bolshoi?

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Doh, Kent Stowell used the pastorale from Pique Dame, complete with female vocals, in the first act of his Nutcracker. He choreographed a masque for two men and one woman, in which the dancers hold Nutcracker, Mouse King, and Pirlipat masks on sticks, and the woman dances in ballet slippers. They recreate the story told at the beginning of the ballet by three children dressed as these characters, a story familiar from Mark Morris' The Hard Nut: the mouse bites Princess Pirlipat, and she turns from a beautiful princess to an ugly one.

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Kent Stowell used the pastorale from Pique Dame, complete with female vocals, in the first act of his Nutcracker.

I think it's just about the loveliest thing about the production.

Hasn't Roland Petit used part of Tchaikovsky's opera score for his ballet of Pique Dame, recently staged for the Bolshoi?

I believe he used Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony.

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John Cranko's Lady and the Fool has a score which was arranged by Charles McKerras consisting of extracts from early Verdi operas. At that time these were not very well known and seldom performed. Now, it's a different matter.

And of course the same team used Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas for Pineapple Poll.

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I remember seeing a not entirely successful ballet solo to Maria Callas' recording of "Casta Diva", the great aria from Norma, but no longer remember who danced it or even what theater I saw it in. Perhaps someone here remembers the event better.

There are certainly ballets galore set to ballet music from opera: Balanchine's Ballo della Regina from Verdi's Don Carlos (the French version); Donizetti Variations (from Dom Sebastien); Sonnambula to Bellini music from La Sonnambula & other of his operas (wonderfully stitched together by Rieti for the ballet); Robbins' Four Seasons from Verdi's Les Vepres Sicilienne - the French version of I Vespri Siciliani - along with some I Lombardi & something else which escapes me for the moment.

For Ballo, Balanchine loosely used the theme of the ballet in the opera. A ball is given by King Phillip to honor his bride, Elisabetta (Isabella, actually but that's off subject). A ballet is part of the entertainment. It is about undersea creatures who find a great pearl - La Pelegrina - which Phillip then presents to Elisabetta. Centuries later Richard Burton presented La Pelegrina to another Elizabeth.

:flowers:

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It's a pity that La Peregrina is almost never performed in context. Don Carlos is a very long opera even with the ballet removed, but it would be nice to see it in its original grand opera form. The opera would still be shorter than Meistersinger! I'm pretty sure that the La Scala video of Vespri siciliani, while performed in Italian, does include the Four Seasons ballet. Like Robbins, Kenneth MacMillan also choreographed a separate ballet to this music. In general I wish more choreographers would follow Balanchine's lead and rescue ballet music discarded from operas.

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In general I wish more choreographers would follow Balanchine's lead and rescue ballet music discarded from operas.

I wish so too. Most of the Grand Operas written for Paris in the mid 19th century had ballets; it was a required element, as it were. Even Wagner had to write a ballet for Tanhauser for it's Parisian permiere.

I remember seeing on a video a ballet of dead nuns from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable. Wild stuff.

I have to disagree though on adding say Verdi's ballets back into his French operas. For me they are just too long. I've really cut back my opera going because I get to antsy at these 4 hour evenings, particularly at the Met where the intermissions are interminable. Also in that era, attendence was much more casual. The audience would feel free to come late, leave early and wander in and out during the performances. They weren't the (somewhat) more disciplined things they are today.

And let's not talk about the length of Meistersinger!!!!

I'd rather see the ballet music lifted out and used on it's own.

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And let's not talk about the length of Meistersinger!!!!

I've always said that I'd only consider seeing that opera live if I could listen to the overture then leave to go shopping, have dinner, maybe visit a museum, and come back 5 hours later for the prize song and final chorus. :grinning-smiley-001: Unfortunately, opera houses frown on that casual attendance thing these days.

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And let's not talk about the length of Meistersinger!!!!

I've always said that I'd only consider seeing that opera live if I could listen to the overture then leave to go shopping, have dinner, maybe visit a museum, and come back 5 hours later for the prize song and final chorus. :grinning-smiley-001: Unfortunately, opera houses frown on that casual attendance thing these days.

In Gotterdammerung, I always want to hear the Norns, leave for drinks, come back for Brunnhilde/Waltraute's scene, leave for appetizers, come back for Hagen's Watch and Hagen/Alberich's scene, leave for dinner, and come back for the death of Siegfried through the end.

I'm not sure those scenes would make a terribly coherent libretto, though.

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This thread is veering... but I just came from Zuaberflote and the whole Met production is visually stunning and there is some ballet/point by the birds in Act II. The Met preoductionn of the Magic Flute may not be to everyone's liking but it is amazing to see... no reason to leave for tea.

I have found most of the Met productions visually very powerful though not all the music in every opera is riviting the way a ballet seems to usually be.

But coming back to the original question of this thread... I was really not seeking entire operas that were done as ballets... but some lyrical arias... almost the way ABT did some of Sinatra songs.. short pieces...

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I just came from Zuaberflote and the whole Met production is visually stunning ... no reason to leave for tea.
At just over an hour in length (as has been advertised) not much time, let alone reason, for tea.

I happened to be crossing Lincoln Center Plaza one day as a photographer was posing cast members on the Met's balcony. I can vouch for "stunning," even without the sets and with natural midday light.

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SanderO, as I said, I have seen the South African Ballet Theatre (formerly PACT) perform a work to an opera aria as a self-standing piece, and I also just remembered that when the Royal Danish Ballet gave a combined guest performance with SABT(I think in 2004) they put on an experimental one-act ballet. It was The Little Matchgirl and contained a solo to an opera aria. Neither event was that great a success, however, and I can't remember either the dancers or what aria it was.

I think one of the main problems with using opera arias for ballet is that the dancer simply can't hold that arabesque for as long as the singer holds his high C. As a result the choreographer has to choreograph very much "through the music" rather than "to the music" and IMO it takes a very good choreographer to do that successfully without creating what I call a "run on" piece, with too little phrasing, rest and climax. In short, I think ballet works to opera arias will become too "busy" because the dancers simply cannot sustain motion for as long as the singer can sustain his voice, with the result that the dancer has to perform four different steps in the time that the singer holds a single note. Not to mention it being extremely exhausting for the dancers.

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