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Giselle Question #1: Is Albrecht a cad?


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 15 April 2001 - 06:21 PM

Does Albrecht really love Giselle? You can answer this question by telling us about productions you've seen (video counts) AND/OR what your ideal Albrecht should be. Also, if anyone knows where in history Albrecht-the-Cad came in, please let us know.

[ 04-16-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#2 felursus

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 12:46 AM

I don't think it's any particular production, but yes, I do think Albrecht's a cad. The DEGREE of "cadness" (to coin a new word) can vary, but I think that clearly he's attracted to the pretty village maiden, but he certainly isn't going to give up his social status for her - he doesn't tell Batilde to go take a hike, because now he's in love with Giselle. Some dancers have made him a little more caring than others - he may never really intend to MARRY Giselle, but he'd set her up in a nice cottage and look after her. Maybe he even thought of having a "fake" marriage. Being the prince, I guess he could have arranged anything. Then he could have fun with Giselle in the village and keep Bathilde safe in the castle. Certainly Albrecht is a spoiled royal who has always had his own way. He's made Wilfred REALLY nervous this time though. I always get the impression that poor Wilfred has had to cover up for Albrecht on more than one occasion: who has set up the cottage? Exactly who/what is Albrecht posing as? He's clearly seen Giselle before the beginning of Act I.

On the other hand, after Giselle dies, I guess he really is remorseful for his behavior and is willing to take responsibility for what he has done (he COULD have listened to Wilfred and have got away before the Wilis showed up. So he had a suicidal ideation at that time.

There used to be a version (Russian???) in which Giselle promoted a reconciliation between Bathilde and Albrecht. (" - And if you have a girl, name it after me"????)

#3 cargill

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 08:55 AM

I know I have told this before, but the most powerful Albrecht I was was Nureyev towards the end of his dancing career. He was completely contemptuous of Giselle, laughing at her beind her back, just playing along. When Hilarion grabs her, he just turns his back, not even trying to protect her. Clearly a heartless rake, who perfectly happy to kiss Bathilde's hand. During Giselle's mad scene, he just stood there stony faced, angry that this little nothing would embarass him. He didn't even reach towards her as she ran to him just before she died. Then when she lay on the ground, it all came tumbling in on him, and he realized what he had lost.
Nureyev just bent down and touched the hem of her dress in a daze, no melodramatics, no "acting", just the most profound grief.
I think it takes an older dancer to carry off this approach, but I have seen others as well. Desmond Kelly, with the Royal Ballet in the early 70's, was wonderful at it. At the very beginning, when Wilfred is trying to convince him that he is wrong, Kelly just kissed his lips, as in "Oh, la, la". And I remember Robert Hill at ABT sort of automatically giving Giselle's friends the once over.
Though certainly naive Albrechts in love with Giselle but too heedless to think of the consequences work very well too. Malakhov gives it that approach, and so does Corella, which suits them very well.
Albrecht is such an interesting role. I suspect it had deepened over the history of the ballet.

#4 Drew

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 06:20 PM

I got very used to Albrechts who were young and heedlessly in love and then I saw Nureyev's -- towards the end of his career -- which I remember much as Cargill describes it. He was tremendous -- really overpowering. I admit I don't remember quite that degree of coldness (laughing at Giselle), but sheer arrogance and self-absorbtion certainly...and absolute unwillingness to acknowledge Giselle in any way once he was caught. Until she actually collapsed. It added greatly to the depth of the entire drama.

The two performances I saw (Festival Ballet in D.C.) he did exit the stage at the end of act I with a kind of aristocratic flourish, but it was clear that he carried the weight of what he had done with him. (My recollection is that after the first terrible realization he went into a kind of rage and swept off stage with his cape waving behind him.) By the close of act II as he fell to his knees and the light of dawn struck his face, one felt an entire lifetime of knowledge, grief, and remorse had passed before one's eyes. Nureyev had the most extraordinary expression of wonder and realization (call it self-realization) on his face. An awe inspiring performance. Since seeing it, I have always found the more tender, loving Albrecht approach less interesting. I recognize, of course, that it suits certain dancers better, but the ballet itself becomes more complex if the Albrecht grows in self-knowledge -- if Giselle's forgiveness makes him into a different person. (Even that forgiveness itself becomes more meaningful -- because more difficult -- if Albrecht is something more than another victim of circumstance.)

Felursus: I thought the original production of Giselle (w. Grisi etc.) concluded with Albrecht returning to a forgiving Bathilde's arms.

[ 04-16-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 06:57 PM

I think it depends on who is cast as Albrecht.

I just watched a videotape of Henning Kronstam coaching Lloyd Riggins and Heidi Ryom in the Royal Danish Ballet's production of Giselle. The coaching and acting is beautifully solid, but the filming can be unintentionally hilarious, as if the filmaker had watched one Bergman flick too many and couldn't decide if she wanted to make a documentary or Winter Light

That being said, watch the coaching (when the camera doesn't obligingly pan to the floor, feet or a bust of Bournonville at a crucial moment. The one that made Manhattnik and I fall out of our chairs happened as soon as Mette-Ida Kirk began her first solo as Myrtha. The camera panned to a meaningful and emotional shot of the back of an opaque flat and stayed there for 20 seconds.)

Anyway :), the coaching. At one point Kronstam does the first scene with Ryom and it is fascinating to watch the older man versus the younger. Kronstam isn't a cad; you get the sense of his ardor for Giselle, but you also get the sense from his self-confidence and ease in navigating the courtship that he's running the show. Riggins couldn't do this if he tried, he's just too young and callow. Kronstam explains to both Riggins and Ryom the narrative, fleshing out the story with inner detail, and showing them exactly how he wanted to do it (you can see just how well this approach works with Ryom. Her mad scene is great theater, and she is dutifully doing every gesture he taught her.) Riggins is following Kronstam's lead as well, but there's a real noticeable change in how the same gestures and direction look on an older, weighted man or a younger man. Riggins had the physical bulk, but not the gravity Kronstam did. I think that's a function of age.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 07:24 PM

That video grows on you, Leigh. It is incredibly disjointed -- they dance scenes to the wrong music, sometimes to bits of Mozart's "Don Juan," etc. -- but I learned a lot about the (former) Royal Danish Ballet from it. (Riggins was 19 when that was shot in 1990, I should add.) The video is called "Of Dreams and Discipline" by one of Denmark's leading filmmakers, Anne Wivel (Ulrik's mother) and is commercially available in Europe, both in Danish and English-subtitled versions. Much of the dialogue is in English. It won two European film awards in the early '90s. (Kronstam found the voiceover dialogue false and didn't want to do it, but the filmmaker insisted on leaving it in, and his choice was to do it himself or have someone else's voice dubbed in.)

I am glad you guys got to see Mette-Ida's Myrthe, though :)

I've never been clear when the Albrecht-as-cad interpretation came in. In the original libretto, Albrecht loves her -- they don't delve very deeply into how Bathilde fits into that picture, but he does love her and Hilarion is the "vile knave" who ruins everything for Albrecht.

I'd love to know how Lifar and Youskevitch played it -- as two of the great mid-century Albrechts -- and how the character evolved in Russia, as well. Like Mary, I was very taken by Nureyev's cad, and thought it made Albrecht's redemption and repentance quite stark.

Kronstam always tried to find an interpretation for his character that used everything in a ballet, and work with those elements until he'd figured out how to do it so that there would be no dangling loose ends he'd have to ignore (friends of Bruhn's say that Bruhn did just the opposite, coming up with the interpretation that he believed right for the ballet and cutting anything that got in the way). Kronstam said that he thought Albrecht was sincerely in love, that Giselle was his way to "escape from all the insincerity of his life up there [the castle]" He described the first act as "a flirt that goes bad," meaning that Albrecht didn't mean to cause harm. I would imagine he played it as heedless and irresponsible when he was younger and taking a calculated risk when he was older. He said he never thought the cad version made sense for him.

Dowell and Baryshnikov also did the "really in love" approach. Baryshnikov added -- brought in? -- a nice touch, I thought, by going up to Giselle's door, stopping to think for a minute, then starting to knock -- obviously he's going to tell her -- when the hunting party starts to clomp in. A contemporary rather than Romantic touch, but it fits with his character.

One of the things I've always loved about Giselle is how porous it is. (To get all my Kronstam/Giselle stories in in one post, I asked him if he thought Albrecht could have ever returned to Bathilde at the end, as he did in the original version, and he said, "No, because I don't think he was a cold person.") It should be difficult to have both the sincere, naive lover and the contemptible cad both work, but different dancers have proven that it's possible.

[ 04-16-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#7 felursus

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Posted 17 April 2001 - 12:38 AM

I certainly wasn't alive to see the original version! However I could SWEAR that I actually saw a version where Bathilde appears at the end and Giselle promoted a reconciliation. I've just seen so many versions that I can't remember WHO! (My brains come out of the last millenium if not from two centuries ago!)

I think Albrecht COULD go back to Bathilde, not because he loves her, but because it's his royal duty to marry and have children. Bathilde isn't a bad person - she's quite generous in giving away a valuable necklace to Giselle. Most nobles wouldn't DREAM of giving something so valuable to a mere peasant girl. I think there was a moment of "sisterhood" between them - when they saw each other just as young women engaged to be married.

Nureyev's Albrecht-as-total-cad interpretation certainly grew over the years. His Albrecht was much more interested in and involved with Giselle when he danced with Fonteyn. He DID play him as someone who never for a moment forgot he was a royal, however. He was very autocratic with Wilfred and Hilarion - and it was clear that it was his Albrecht's BEHAVIOR that caused suspicion in the mind of Hilarion.

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 17 April 2001 - 12:50 AM

felursus, when Ashton was director of the Royal Ballet he staged a version (with Karsavina's advice) that restored the original ending. According to David Vaughan's book, it was not successful. I also think that Mary Skeaping's production (which also restored the Wili's fugue) had Bathilde come back at the end. Even though I saw the latter (though not the former) I can't remember it--I counted the other night, and I've seen 24 productions live, several more on video, and then read about a lot of others, and they do tend to blur after awhile.

If I'm remembering correctly (and I may not be) I thought that one of the many things I liked about Nureyev's Albrecht was that he didn't reach for the sword to respond to Hilarion's knife -- but, as you said, showed who he was by his nobility of manner.

#9 Helene

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Posted 15 September 2007 - 03:30 AM

Karen Kain, in a mini-interview with the Edmonton Journal, said:

"For the ballet to make sense, I believe he has to be genuinely in love with her. We're moved when he comes to her grave. And Giselle has this passion of her convictions, her love.

I think the reason the ballet is still around is that it's a story about love that is greater than the separation of death."


http://www.canada.co...s...k=10751&p=2

That's very much in line with Vasiliev's interpretation.

#10 bart

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Posted 15 September 2007 - 06:00 AM

Thanks, Helene, for reviving this thread. From the article you linked:

The most debated questions about this plot line are: Is Albrecht simply a two-faced jerk who went slumming among the peasants, took advantage of Giselle's innocence, then cruelly betrayed her? And if so, why does Giselle love him enough to rise from the dead?

I wonder whether the choices are quite as simple and far-apart as the article presents them. "Love" takes many forms, and different kinds of love develop on their own, often twisted, paths.

I know I have told this before, but the most powerful Albrecht I was was Nureyev towards the end of his dancing career. He was completely contemptuous of Giselle, laughing at her beind her back, just playing along. When Hilarion grabs her, he just turns his back, not even trying to protect her. Clearly a heartless rake, who perfectly happy to kiss Bathilde's hand. During Giselle's mad scene, he just stood there stony faced, angry that this little nothing would embarass him. He didn't even reach towards her as she ran to him just before she died. Then when she lay on the ground, it all came tumbling in on him, and he realized what he had lost.

Nureyev just bent down and touched the hem of her dress in a daze, no melodramatics, no "acting", just the most profound grief.

I, too, have memories of this interpretation. It is indeed powerful. And, with Nureyev, it worked. One reason was that it stunned.

I wonder, though, whether "cad" or "caddish" -- let alone "two-faced jerk," as the article has it -- are the correct terms. There are connotations of superficiality, triviality, along with the callousness and manipulativeness.

Nureyev seemed to be striving for -- or to genuinely believe in the existence of -- something deeper.

As a dancer, Nureyev returned several times to noble characters who cannot (or cannot imagine) compromise with the real world and who live in a kind of proud apartness from those around them. Aristocrats. Artists. Even his Pierrot seems to experience his victimhood as a kind of noblity.

In the Giselles we are speaking of, it is as though Albrecht is dancing in his own personal bubble of aristocratic self-regard. For him, the village is a playground; the girl is there to be enjoyed, which is what simple, pretty village girls are for; the mothers are minor roadblocks to be circumvented; peasants like Hilarion, even if they become threatening, are almost beneath notice. He is not a dishonest person who knows better. He is something who genuinely -- and tragically -- believes this is how a nobleman is supposed to act. What happens in Act I subverts and attacks those assumptions, leading to the collapse that cargill describes.

As in the stories of the saints, the most memorable conversion experiences involve people who are supremely, arrogantly, blindly involved in self. This makes their fall -- and consequent redemption -- even more dramatic. The idea of reducing this, as Kain suggests, to

a story about love that is greater than the separation of death.

is possibly to trivialize it.

What do the rest of you think? And what about that idea of giving Bathilde a happy ending?

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 September 2007 - 08:22 AM

If you can find a recording of the original score, you will find that there's a definite change in lietmotiv that brings on Wilfrid and Bathilde, who have apparently been beating the bushes all night, trying to find Albrecht. The transformation dawn music continues after this short burst, and there is some considerable time involved before the allegro/forte coda to the act. Although Gautier was part of the anti-clerical movement in Parisian intelligentsia, he certainly went through some contortions to make sure that there is 1) plenty of time for Giselle to effect a reconciliation between Albrecht and Bathilde, and 2) that there are at least two witnesses to a miracle (doubtless to be placed before the Sacred Congregation on the Causes of Saints). If it wasn't Gautier or Vernoy de Saint-George, who also didn't like the Church, then it may have been Coralli or Perrot.

#12 bart

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Posted 15 September 2007 - 09:02 AM

Mel, if there is time in the music to bring back Bathilde, what do you think about it as an artistic choice?

It seems cluttered to me. One does wonder what happened to her, but another marriage would probably have been arranged. And she still had the ring! Bringing her back, to me, would be only a little more meaningful than bringing back Siegfried's mother. I get the theology, but not the dramaturgy.

If I'm remembering correctly (and I may not be) I thought that one of the many things I liked about Nureyev's Albrecht was that he didn't reach for the sword to respond to Hilarion's knife -- but, as you said, showed who he was by his nobility of manner.

I also wish I could remember. Can anyone help?

What you describe, Alexandra, would be consistent with Albrecht's world-view as a medieval nobleman. A peasant, even an upper peasant employed by the nobility, was described by some as almost another species. The thought of gaining an upper hand by fighting with a sword -- duelling being a prerogative of nobles -- would be beneath someone like Albrecht.

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 September 2007 - 11:36 AM

It's a possibility with only limited chances of probability, as the original scoring for that part is not available to most orchestras, and I have no idea of how to get it. I personally like it as a choice, but it has limited prospects of execution. If you haven't heard it, the music does go on for some considerable stage time. In some modern productions of this ballet, lily petals fall from the flies, suggesting that Giselle has gone to heaven, or to the more literal-minded, that some stagehand is up on the bridge eating a sandwich, and the lettuce has fallen out. The blocking for this scene exists nowhere, so we can't know how the final few minutes actually appeared onstage. Some productions used to have her appear significantly above the gravesite, and moving upward on a lift. At least that made some sense to me. Giselle has gone from a suicide's grave (she's not buried in the churchyard {consecrated ground}, she's out in the woods) to the personal judgment of God as Saved in defiance of the laws of Men. We've seen something disturbingly like this in our own time in the outpouring of sympathy for the late Princess Diana, and a corresponding respect, and even the beginnings of actual public affection for Prince Charles. Sometimes, it almost seemed as if there were an active invisible agency attending details of the ceremonies. Her coffin was covered by the Prince of Wales' banner because that was the only flag on board the aircraft that brought the corpse back to England! And Charles was still married to her in the canon law of the Church of England, so his demeanor throughout displayed nothing but the most fitting widower's grief. There is still the suggestion of the "man saved by the woman he scorned" in some present blockings of the final parts of the ballet, where Albrecht looks up to the heavens, as if to look toward where Giselle has gone.

#14 scherzo

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Posted 15 September 2007 - 01:32 PM

I like the idea of Bathilde reappearing if she is really in love with Albrecht, rather than taking a 'You must marry me because of this ring' approach and hauling him off. If she and Wilfried have been out all night it makes sense that she has decided that she does love Albrecht after all - courtly ladies do not wander the forests at night (except in ABT's Swan Lake, apparently). It would make her a more 3D character than just a betrayed lady in a pretty dress, and would also contribute to the idea of love in the ballet as a whole.

Of course, this would soup up the ballet no end. Overkill, perhaps? :)

#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 September 2007 - 07:02 PM

Sir Anton Dolin first told me about this longer ending, and expressed a wish to be able to try it out, and he'd studied the ballet longer than anyone at the time. Violette Verdy's excellent translation of the libretto gives us something of the action that was expected, in that Wilfrid and Bathilde and the hunters appear at the appointed place in the music, but fall to their knees upon witnessing the miracle happening before their eyes. The squire and the Princess bring Albrecht away from the grave, but he rushes back to it, distraught, throwing himself upon the earth, weeping uncontrollably. Bathilde cradles him in her arms, trying to soothe him as the curtain falls. Makes Bathilde into a pretty nice woman throughout the story.


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