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Opera Ballet


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#1 SanderO

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 12:52 PM

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.

#2 volcanohunter

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 03:05 PM

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.

#3 SanderO

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 03:16 PM

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...

#4 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 03:21 PM

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.

#5 volcanohunter

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 03:32 PM

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.

#6 SanderO

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 04:32 PM

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?

#7 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 05:18 PM

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.

#8 Helene

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 05:29 PM

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.

#9 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 05:30 PM

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.

#10 Helene

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 05:37 PM

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: )

#11 volcanohunter

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 05:48 PM

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.

#12 Ostrich

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Posted 19 December 2006 - 11:53 PM

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?

#13 Helene

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Posted 20 December 2006 - 12:43 AM

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.

#14 volcanohunter

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Posted 20 December 2006 - 01:33 AM

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.

#15 Alymer

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Posted 20 December 2006 - 02:42 AM

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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