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Why not?

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I love ballet, and I love the great classics such as Swan Lake and Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, and the big N (too early to mention that one yet!), but I sometimes long for a new, fairytale/theatrical/magnificent ballet to appear.

Then I was listening to The Magic Flute and I read the story as I listened and I thought 'wow, now that would make a great ballet'..why has no one turned this story into a ballet?

Or have they? and if not why aren't operas turned into ballets and vice versa, they all contain great story lines. Afterall, books are turned into films and vice versa, why is there no crossing over with regards to opera and ballet, when most Opera houses have ballet companies associated with them?

Probably an extremely naive question, but had to know why not?


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Peter Martins' 'Magic Flute" was televised in I think 1983. I saw it live and although the music was nice and it was elaborate, I don't recall caring for it much.

Here, from the library:

Telecast on PBS on April 25, 1983 as a part of Great Performances' Dance in America series. A production of WNET/13, New York. Producer: Judy Kinberg. Director: Merrill Brockway.

Choreography: Peter Martins. Music: Riccardo Drigo. Scenery: David Mitchell. Costumes: Ben Benson. Lighting: Ralph Holmes.

Cast: Frank Ohman (The farmer), Florence Fitzgerald (The farmer's wife), Heather Watts (Lise), Ib Andersen (Luke), Douglas Hay (The marquis), Espen Giljane (The marquis' footman), Robert Maiorano (The sheriff), Peter Naumann (The judge), Gen Horiuchi (The judge's clerk), Maria Calegari (Oberon), and members of the New York City Ballet

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Victoria--Carmina Burana is on odd work. In the U. S. it usually presented as a concert, while in Germany it is staged. Orff called it a cantata.

Regarding operatic fairy tales--

Benjamin Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream is, as one can imagine, full of fairies and fantastic creatures. It was written in 1960, so I suppose that puts it on the postmodern side of things.

The Rake's Progress by Stravinksy is fantastic but very dark. It is an "adult" fairy tale--the hero dies in the end--but is peopled with odd, perhaps nightmarish creatures. It is on the Met schedule and will be broadcast this month. Very modernist, lots of comments on the artist in crisis.

An opera I think would be a perfect subject for a fairy tale ballet is The Cunning Little Vixen by Leos Janacek. It tells the story of a clever vixen (fox cub) reared by a gamekeeper. The vixen escapes and raises her own family. Some of the singers have two roles, human and animal--for example the local priest and the badger are one singer; the gamekeeper's wife and the owl are another. Not sure how that would be handled by the choreographer, Janacek and his librettist used it to good effect, with the human and animal characters having some of the same aspects to their personality. There is a ballet of midges, squirrels and hedgehogs, a chorus of forest creatures and plenty of fox cubs.

It was first staged in 1920. Lots of Czech folk themes in the music.

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Martins's "Magic Flute" shared only its title with the Mozart opera. The story was from an old Russian ballet (Balanchine remembered it, and gave it to Martins as an assignment to develop his choreographic abilities). I don't remember who wrote the music, but it was far from Mozart. Still, it was a charming little one-act piece. I'm sorry it's disappeared from the rep.

Xena, were you proposing that a choreographer use Mozart's score? In that case a composer would be needed to adapt the vocal music to balletic purposes, someone who could work with the choreographer to determine when to have narrative music and when to have dancing music, and what kinds of each. The composer would run the risk of being reviled by his or her peers for bastardizing Mozart.

There have been a number of ballets lifted from operas — [Eugene] Onegin and Madame Butterfly, among others. Onegin didn't use any music from Tchaikovsky's opera, but I believe Butterfly did.

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There has been a Madame Butterfly? How did that one turn out?

I would have thought Don Quioxte would have made a great opera or operetta at least.

And yes, Ari, why can't the score of an opera be adapted for use in ballet and vice versa. Classical music is adapted to an extent when it is used for a ballet, do people complain about that. Ok its not as drastically changed as taking out the vocals and replacing them with instruments. I guess its similar to someone taking a great classic novel and adapting that for screenplay. In some cases it has worked and in others it hasn't.

La Boheme seems a great tragic ballet waiting to be choreographed though. Yep, I would do that and The Magic Flute in my virtual ballet world


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Though it's certainly far afield from a Fairy Tale, The Rake's Progress (with a charming assembled score by Gavin Gordon) was set by Ninette de Valois on Sadler's Wells in 1935. I have the video tape from the 1985 production. Wonderful!

Has any British company kept it in rep?

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This is a French opera by Jules Massenet, first performed in 1910. The character of the Don is sung by a bass, and many famous basses have recorded arias from it, among them the great Fyodor Chaliapin. According to the Harper Dictionary of Opera & Operetta (1989), "After a long period of neglect, it has been regularly performed in recent years."

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I think there are 2 different issues intertwined here. One is why aren't there any new fairy tale/fantastic ballets and the other is balletic spinoffs from opera.

I think the main reason there aren't new 'fantastic' ballets is that they are very difficult to choreograph and stage, much more so than abstract and dramatic ballets. Just as science fiction (books/TV/movies, whatever) has to be excellent in order to be good, and not just campy entertainment, so with 'fantastic' ballets. The element of suspense of belief is that much greater than with other genres, so the ballet itself has to be 'better' (whatever that means. :D ), in order for it to be considered more than a juvenile ballet.

I don't know much about opera but are there many 'fantastic' operas? I would assume not, seeing that opera singers look less fairylike than ballet dancers.:)

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no time to think right now - but there's also Lehar's The Merry Widow, The Tales of Hoffman (did someone mention that up above...?), and wasn't Pineapple Poll an eperetta? or maybe not?

anyone tried Turandot or Tosca!!?.......

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"Pineapple Poll" was originally one of the Bab Ballads that W.S. Gilbert mostly wrote for the magazine Fun. It started life as "The Bumboat Woman's Story" and served as the springboard for H.M.S. Pinafore. The gag of cross-dressing got recycled for Princess Ida, except that it was three men trying to break into a women's college.

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There definitely was a ballet in Russia called The Magic Flute, but I can't remember whether it was choreographed by Petipa or Lopukhov (or someone else entirely). Balanchine mentions it in "Balanchine's Tchaikovsky" by Solomon Volkov. I definitely do not want to see the Martins version until I've seen the original ;).

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I'm a bit late here, but actually, La Dame Aux Camélias is not based on the opera La Traviata, but on the novel by Alexandre Dumas (the son of the Alexandre Dumas who wrote The Three Musketeers etc) called La Dame aux Camélias, which he then turened into a play, and Verdi was touched by it and then wrote La Traviata. So ballets called La Dame aux Camélias and La Traviata (and the movie Moulin Rouge with Nicole Kidman ) are (theoretically) all based on this novel (which is one of my favorites!).

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I think there would be two big problems in turning opera into ballet. Ari described the need to arrange a score for singers into one suitable for dancing. Also, there is the matter of plot. Today's choreographers and dancers, and audiences) did not grow up immersed in the kind of mime that told the stories of the 19th century ballets. Unless the story line were extremely simple or very familiar, I doubt that many choreographers out there could stage something that the audience could easily follow. No, don't burden me with program notes, thanks. :rolleyes: If notes are necessary to understanding a ballet, it fails as a plot vehicle.

Then there's the issue of the extent to which dance should be considered an appropriate medium for story telling. For another time.

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Ivanov!? Ugh. Never mind. Don't revive it. I'd rather choreograph my own.

Back on topic, I haven't found a story ballet yet (even a Balanchine one) that didn't need program notes to explain it. Even operas have synopses of the plot. How else could anyone understand what's going on in Le Corsaire?

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