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Lilting waltzes in the Kirov's Swan Lake, Act IIIwhat do you think?


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#1 bart

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Posted 06 December 2007 - 06:38 PM

I recently watched a 2006 video performance of the Kirov's (Maryinsky's) Swan Lake (Lapatkina/Korsuntsev, conducted by Gergiev).

As the ballet reached its conclusion, I was distracted and puzzzled --not for the first time -- by the inclusion of two extended passages of rather sweet, light-hearted, lilting waltz music. First, what was described as a "valse bluette" for the corps of white swans and black swans.. Then another similar waltz, a kind of pas d'action for Odette and Siegfried, with the corps.

I know that Drigo orchestrated some Tchaikovsky piano music for the 1895 version and that he did this with the approval of Tchaikovsky's brother Modest. (Opus 72, No. 11 Valse Bluette for the corps; No. 15 Un poco di Chopin for the lovers. "Blulette" in my dictionary is defined as a "novelette or trivial short story")

I realize also that this could be an attempt to provide a kind of upbeat preparation for the happy ending which ends the act.

This waltzing is the first thing we see after returning from intermission after the catastrophe that brings down the Act II curtain. Odette's arrival, showing mild perturbation, does bring us back to the central conflict of the plot, but rather quickly Siegfried enters, they are reconciled, and ... waltzing. Then there's another sudden shift ... the ominous swan theme (oboe) alarms them. Next: a short battle with Rothbart. Then a sudden shift of lighting this time: night becomes day -- somber blue light turns to a technicolor that seems garish by comparison.

Am I the only one to find this music jarring and inappropriate to what comes earlier and what follows? What do you think about this waltzing and all that it expresses: choice of music, abrupt happy ending, lighting, etc.? How do you compare it with the musical and other choices in the versions of Act III danced most often in the West, including Ashton's and Nureyev's.

P.S. I'm NOT criticizing the video. It's stunning: Loptatkina and all the dancers, the sets and costumes, the orchestra, Gergiev's conducting. I'm troubled here only about the Act III music and effect that musical choices have on such things as plot, drama, pacing, and credibility.

For those wanting to discuss other aspects of this video, there's a long and interesting thread here:
http://ballettalk.in...mp;#entry216930

#2 Ray

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Posted 06 December 2007 - 07:53 PM

As the ballet reached its conclusion, I was distracted and puzzzled --not for the first time -- by the inclusion of two extended passages of rather sweet, light-hearted, lilting waltz music. First, what was described as a "valse bluette" for the corps of white swans and black swans.. Then another similar waltz, a kind of pas d'action for Odette and Siegfried, with the corps.

I know that Drigo orchestrated some Tchaikovsky piano music for the 1895 version and that he did this with the approval of Tchaikovsky's brother Modest. (Opus 72, No. 11 Valse Bluette for the corps; No. 15 Un poco di Chopin for the lovers. "Blulette" in my dictionary is defined as a "novelette or trivial short story")


I didn't know about Drigo, but if memory serves, Balanchine used the Valse Bluette as a Pas de neuf in his one-act Swan Lake.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 December 2007 - 12:46 AM

If I remember correctly, he used the "Danse des petits cygnes" for the pas de neuf, the piece often played as an entr'acte to Act IV in many productions.

#4 Cygnet

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Posted 07 December 2007 - 04:49 PM

. . . Am I the only one to find this music jarring and inappropriate to what comes earlier and what follows? What do you think about this waltzing and all that it expresses: choice of music, abrupt happy ending, lighting, etc.? How do you compare it with the musical and other choices in the versions of Act III danced most often in the West, including Ashton's and Nureyev's.


With Ashton and Nureyev's versions, (esp. Nureyev's), the tragedy is implicit,
and the dramatic points aren't obscured. Nureyev really empahsized those dramatic
points with his use of the majority of the original 1877 score. I agree with your supposition
that these two pieces were meant to be a "set up" for the happy ending. After the Revolution,
the Party bosses decreed that this ballet must have a happy ending and uplift the audience.
Belief in life after death was not "official."

'Un poco di Chopin' is listed in the original libretto notes as the 'farewell' or 'parting' pas de deux, in
tempo di mazurka. Both the Valse Bluette and Un poco di Chopin are indeed heavenly music, beautifully
orchestrated by Drigo, but they don't sound as disconsolate or as "hopeless," as the numbers from the 1877
in the same segments. Remember, these pieces are written by Tchaikovsky, but orchestrated by Drigo 'in the manner of' Tchaikovsky. I also add into this discussion the ingratiatingly charming variation for Odile in Act 2. There's no malevolence in this piece which was also inserted by Drigo. In the Fedotov/JVC cd liner notes, it states that Drigo believed that he was doing the most delicate surgery, transplanting what he thought the master would have wanted, into the pre-existing score. Compared with the original Act 4 from the 1877 score, the 1895 edition is audibly out of context with the original plot. IMO the 1895 Act 3 doesn't reconcile with the Overture, which summarizes the entire tragedy succinctly:
This music doesn't herald a happy ending. I also agree that the dual between Siegfried and Rothbart at the end is too short and dramatically implausible. For example, if all Siegfried had to do was rip off Rothbart's wing, why didn't he do this in
Act 1 Scene 2? Without the double suicide, great ballerinas who were born for the tragic ending, are hard pressed in this production to make their human restoration believable at the end. Great ballerinas can successfully pull this off; poor and fair-to-middling ballerinas can't.

#5 Hans

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Posted 07 December 2007 - 06:40 PM

I don't really see how the Valse Bluette could be a "set up" for a happy ending considering it was in the 1895 production...?

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 December 2007 - 07:58 PM

Oddly, the 1895 audience would have seen the ending as ultimately happy. The lovers die, but the Evil One is defeated, his spells are broken, and the souls of the two who had sacrificed themselves are seen floating over the surface of the lake, ostensibly to Paradise.

#7 bart

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Posted 08 December 2007 - 04:53 AM

I agree with Mel about the way the audiences of 1895 would feel about the ending they were given.

Given that, I still wonder about the appropriateness of the sweet little waltz at this point, in tihs story, and with this degree of serious, even supernatural stuff going on. Would Giselle, Albrecht, and the Willis break into this kind of dance at the end of Act II? What would we think?

P.S. I'm still hoping for a bold defense of these musical choices. I'd really like to understand them.

#8 rg

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Posted 08 December 2007 - 06:28 AM

the annotations to the JVC release of the 1895 score note the "valse brillante" orchestrated as accompanying "'Dance of the swans"' (they wait for Odette's return)", the next scene, no. 28 is noted :"(Odette appears to an allegro agitato, telling of her tradedy; the swans comfort her; Rotbart appears to an allegro vivace)"; the next scene is noted simply as an "andante"; next the notes say: Scene (Odette and the Prince dance) described as "Opus. 72 No. 15 'Un Poco de Chopin' in C sharp minor orchestrated and added."
the "Finale and apotheosis" come next (and last) noting their being part of Tchaikovsky's 1877 final number (29).
i think these less than agitato numbers can seen as serene, maybe contemplative, and private moments pertaining to the leading and ensemble dancers's characters as they seek solace. it makes a kind of dramatic sense to set up the final allegro agitato with contrastingly melancholy moods. 'sweet, little waltzes' is only one way to characterize such moments musically.
(btw, the alternative solo balanchine made for his odette, to "un poco de chopin" came and went in my years of watching his SWAN LAKE - i think it was first made for kay mazzo. it was revived only once so far as i can tell after he dropped it during his time, in '93, the season making the 10-year anniversary of his death, for kyra nihcols, for her debut as odette. for some reason when whelan then danced the role, the old semi-ivanov solo, as danilova set it for kistler? at SAB's workshop?, was reinstated where it has remained.)

#9 chrisk217

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Posted 08 December 2007 - 04:00 PM

P.S. I'm still hoping for a bold defense of these musical choices. I'd really like to understand them.


Regarding the second waltz you mention (Odette/Siegfried/corps) perhaps the culprit here is the maestro and not the production. Gergiev takes this at a faster pace than other Kirov/Mariinksy conductors. The difference in tempo is small but crucial. Taken at the usual, slightly slower tempo it can express sadness and tenderness and also a kind of subdued elation (which is very appropriate - wouldn't you feel elated if your loved one, who you thought has abandoned you, was back beside you, even if only for a little while?)

Another musical difference is that, in contrast to Gergiev's approach, the melancholy melodic line is usually more pronounced and the waltz rhythm underneath it barely audible. In this interpretation parts that usually sound somber and despondent instead come across as almost upbeat.

As for the valse bluette maybe in the Kirov production the swans do not yet know what happened at the palace? In this case there is no reason for them not to waltz until Odette appears with the bad news.

Both pieces are lovely music and I would be sad to see them go from this production. After all they were in the 1895 one. Now if someone could do something about Rothbart with the ridiculous hand-behind-the-back and all that writhing and squirming on the floor....

#10 Hans

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Posted 09 December 2007 - 07:26 PM

Oddly, the 1895 audience would have seen the ending as ultimately happy. The lovers die, but the Evil One is defeated, his spells are broken, and the souls of the two who had sacrificed themselves are seen floating over the surface of the lake, ostensibly to Paradise.

That's right, I had forgotten that.

I think chrisk217's point about the Valse Bluette is correct--I believe the swans are supposed to be teaching the cygnets to dance as they await Odette's return. I'm less of a fan of the second waltz, with its bland choreography. Was that in the 1895 production? Somehow I was under the impression that the Valse Bluette and Odile's variation were the only interpolations.

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 06:20 AM

Oh, yes, the "Chopin" morceau is in the 1895, too. It's part of a collection of piano pieces which Drigo selected to flesh out the very short (something like 15 minutes) Act IV, which was historically a problem. The Odile variation is yet another part of the same suite of music, that selection entitled, "The Mischievous Child"! So while there may not be malevolence in it, there is at least some mischief.


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