I don't know about "all manner of concerti." There are a few - Stravinsky Violin, Prokofiev Violin 1, Tchaikovsky 2 (which I'll see for the first time later this week), the Mozart Symphonie Concertante, the three Mozarts used by Mark Morris come to mind. Are there many others, given the rich concerto repertoire? Nonetheless, there's a qualitative difference in my mind between even the instrumental soloist and the expressive power of the human voice. And I emphasize that my "theory" about operatic arias is nothing but speculation.
Off the top of my head I can think of ballets set to Ravel's Piano Concerto, Brahms' Second Piano Concerto, the Barber Violin Concerto, Bruch's Violin Concerto, Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 9 and Concerto for Flute and Harp, Gershwin's Piano Concerto, Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Winds and Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, Martinu's Double Concerto for Piano, Two String Orchestras and Timpani, Bach's Double Violin Concerto, Brandenburg Concertos and several of his piano concertos, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto no. 2, Adams' Violin Concerto and Prokofiev's Piano Concerto no. 5. Allegro Brillante
is set to Tchaikovsky's incomplete Third Piano Concerto, and Chopin's piano concertos form the basis of the score to John Neumeier's The Lady of the Camellias
, though they're not necessarily played in order. [Correction: the complete Second Piano Concerto is used as the score to the first act, and the second movement of the First Piano Concerto is used in Act 3.] I'm sure there are others I've forgotten and many more I haven't seen.
And although I agree that there is a difference between the voice and other instruments, this hasn't stopped choreographers from using song cycles and vocal liturgical works. Neumeier has choreographed Bach's Magnificat
and St. Matthew Passion
, Handel's Messiah
and the Mozart Requiem. Other ballets set to vocal religious music are MacMillan's Gloria
, Kylián's Symphony of Psalms
and Soldiers' Mass
, and Uwe Scholz's The Great Mass
. In recent years Alberta Ballet, my local company, has performed Jean Grand-Maître's Celestial Themes
, set to Tallis' Spem in alium
, Edmund Stripe's Unquiet Light
, set to some of the longer sections of Tchaikovsky's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and Emily Molnar's Portrait of A Suspended Grace
, set to Pergolesi's Stabat Mater
. Many of these works are heavy on choral music, but song cycles are used also. Think of Tudor's Dark Elegies
, Balanchine's Liebeslieder Walzer
and Seven Deadly Sins
, MacMillan's Song of the Earth
, Béjart's Song of a Wayfarer
, Rudi van Danzig's Four Last Songs
and Neumeier's Winterreise
. I don't know whether anyone's ever attempted to choreograph a ballet to the complete Des Knaben Wunderhorn
, but William Forsythe set a pas de deux to "Urlicht." Glen Tetley choreographed a couple of ballets to vocal works for the National Ballet of Canada: Alice
, to David Del Tredici's Child Alice, Part One: In Memory of a Summer Day
, and Tagore
, to Alexander Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony. Alexei Ratmansky's Russian Seasons
would be another recent example. Among other vocal works, Stravinsky's Les Noces
and Orff's Carmina Burana
have been tackled more than once.
So while I do understand Leigh Witchel's point about structure or lack thereof in contemporary choreography, previous generations of choreographers apparently did like to rely on the structure provided by symphonies, concertos, song cycles and liturgical works.
Then I've been very lucky in my ballet-going experience.
Of course, at the ballet you're unlikely to hear a great violinist or pianist. The same would probably apply to sopranos.
Perhaps you have been lucky, or perhaps I have been unlucky. I can't think of a performance of Swan Lake
during which the playing of the "White Swan" pas de deux hasn't made me cringe. In my North American exprience, the sounds coming out of the pit are usually inferior to the quality of the dancing on stage. This probably wouldn't be the case at the Paris Opera or Vienna State Opera.