Which brings me to one bone of contention I had with the Bolshoi's production. In the ABT production Lankendam, no first name is listed for the part in ABT's program, is a dancing part and acted without any trace of anti-semitism. In the Bolshoi's he's a character part and played like the he's the Merchant of Venice. I know very little about the history of the ballet but I was surprised that this new production chose to have Lankendem, Isaac Lankendem in the program, acted in such a virulently anti-semitic way. That may be historically accurate for a nineteenth century Russian ballet, it's certainly par for the course in the literature, at least Gogol, but is it necessary for a new production? Is this common in most productions of Corsaire?
Unfortunately, all forms of religious and ethnic intolerance, including antisemitism, have long been and still are part of life in Russia. Byron's poem that the names of the four main characters are taken from does not have any slave traders, Jews, or slave markets. The names "Isaac Lanquedem," "Lankedem," and "Lankendem" are all misspelled versions of the main protagonist from Alexandre Dumas' novel "Isaac Laquedem," based on the legend of the Wondering Jew---however, the actual character in the ballet has nothing in common with Dumas' character, either, as far as I know. I'd be curious to know who it was that introduced this character into the ballet, and when. However, given the virulent antisemitism of the tsarist Russia, it is no surprise to me that the character took root. Clearly, nothing much has changed since then, as the following quote from the Bolshoi's official Corsaire synopsis shows:
"Medora begs Seyd-Pasha to grant her her freedom but, seeing that he is unrelenting, complains of cruel treatment by her guardian; Seyd-Pasha orders the eunuch to send the Jew packing."
Miraculously, this was edited in the Kennedy Center program booklet and replaced with:
"Medora begs Seyd-Pasha to grant her her freedom but, seeing that he is unrelenting, complains of cruel treatment by her guardian. Pasha
Seyd orders Isaac to leave."
(In fact, before he orders Isaac to leave, he has him whipped.)
Was it necessary to give Lanquedem a huge fake nose? Apparently so, because it was clearly intended to drive home the point that he is Jewish. Could the Bolshoi have come up with a more repulsive collection of antisemitic stereotypes? Isaac is greedy to the point of selling his young ward, cowardly, weak, repulsive, and rich.
I wish I could say that I was shocked by all this, but I am not. In Russia, racism is business as usual.