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The Composer


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Matthew Bourne makes it seem as if Peter Ilyich wrote the ballet for him, so much so that we can almost forgive the producers from changing the name of the production from ''Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake" to ''Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake." (Tchaikovsky doesn't even appear on the titles page of the program.)
~ Ed Siegel in The Boston Globe

Okay, I'm willing to concede placing the composer's name after the title but before the choreographer's name in the program, following the conceit that the music probably came before the choreography... but... "changing the name of the production from "Tchiakovsky's Swan Lake"...!

If you want to go to a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, go to a Symphony concert... if it's a ballet production, don't presume shock at the choreographer being credited!

Or am I over-reacting, and the Matthew Bourne production was originally titled "Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake"?

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I think Mr. Siegel missed the point of the change of credit. As posts on this board make clear, many people buying tickets to htis production have been shocked by its unorthodox presentation. Including Bourne's name in the title is likely an effort to signal that this is not your great-grandma's Swan Lake.

Of course, getting that message depends on one's knowing just who Matthew Bourne is, bringing up another can o' beans.

As for composers' credits in general, well, that's always the first information I want from any review of a ballet I know nothing about. If it's someone I'm familiar with, and if the choreographer has any ear at all, it will tell me more about the work than the next thousand words.

Of course, we all know -- or should know -- who composed Swan Lake.

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<grumpy>

I've been having a similar twitchy feeling this last week, over Pacific Northwest Ballet's press release for "Ronald Hynd's Magnificent The Sleeping Beauty." Yes, Hynd staged it from the production he set on the ENB, which was drawn primarily from the Royal Ballet version that he knew as a performer there, so it's got the fine hand of Petipa, Sergeyev, deValois, Ashton, and the gods know who else on it. And they do credit Petipa at the end of the first paragraph (and give him his first name -- Tschaikovsky doesn't get a first name until page four).

The actual program does a better job, using the standard "after" designation, but I know that people who write calendar copy frequently only know what the press release tells them.

</grumpy>

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Regarding composer/musical credits, I can't believe how poor under-rated Maestro Riccardo Drigo NEVER gets credited in "Swan Lake" productions live or on film for his work on the score. Grant it, a company may not be utilizing the complete 1895 St. Petersburg performance score, but I'm sure 99.9% of them perform his revised endings for the 'Love Duet', and the 'Black Swan Adage', as well as his orchestrations for Odile's famous Variation, the 'Swan's Waltz' ('Valse Bluette'), and the 'reconciliation' Pas de Deux (Un poco di Chopin) (though there aren't many western companies that perform the latter 2 dances).

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Regarding composer/musical credits, I can't believe how poor under-rated Maestro Riccardo Drigo NEVER gets credited in "Swan Lake" productions live or on film for his work on the score. Grant it, a company may not be utilizing the complete 1895 St. Petersburg performance score, but I'm sure 99.9% of them perform his revised endings for the 'Love Duet', and the 'Black Swan Adage', as well as his orchestrations for Odile's famous Variation, the 'Swan's Waltz' ('Valse Bluette'), and the 'reconciliation' Pas de Deux (Un poco di Chopin) (though there aren't many western companies that perform the latter 2 dances).

I agree Drigo should get credit, but not just for Swan Lake, but for assisting in the realisation of numerous performance scores for choreographers at the Maryinsky Theatre from 1886 to 1926 by which time the name had changed to Petrograd Theatre of Opera and Ballet.

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<grumpy>

I've been having a similar twitchy feeling this last week, over Pacific Northwest Ballet's press release for "Ronald Hynd's Magnificent The Sleeping Beauty." ...

The actual program does a better job, using the standard "after" designation, but I know that people who write calendar copy frequently only know what the press release tells them.

</grumpy>

And the people who write headlines for reviews:

Just Right: Ronald Hynd's Sleeping Beauty blends tradition with delight.

(Now I'm going to the local review thread to the Local Ballet Coverage, How's Your Newspaper Doing? thread to complain about the review itself :))

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Or am I over-reacting, and the Matthew Bourne production was originally titled "Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake"?

The 1996 DVD of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake was in fact titled Tchiakovsky's Swan Lake!!! As opposed to all the other versions of Swan Lake that were danced to Tchiakovsky's score? I've never completely dropped the idea that MBSL is a parody, and this might be one more piece of evidence.

I found the statement "And what a choreographer he is, combining modern dance and ballet to the point where you don't know where one ends and the other begins." to be even more annoying.

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I found the statement "And what a choreographer he is, combining modern dance and ballet to the point where you don't know where one ends and the other begins." to be even more annoying.

LOL! INDEED! That is funny.

@ work one day (a local studio I teach at) we got into a big disscussion about Bourne's "Swan Lake", which seems to have been named in the dance world as the "all-male Swan Lake". Everyone couldnt believe that I really didnt like it - I still feel like Im the only one who doesnt! :) Im not a conservative person by a long shot, but when it comes to ballet, I guess Im a regular "conservatist" if there ever was one. :)

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@ work one day (a local studio I teach at) we got into a big disscussion about Bourne's "Swan Lake", which seems to have been named in the dance world as the "all-male Swan Lake". Everyone couldnt believe that I really didnt like it - I still feel like Im the only one who doesnt! :) Im not a conservative person by a long shot, but when it comes to ballet, I guess Im a regular "conservatist" if there ever was one. :)

You're far from the only one on this site. There've been a couple of threads about MBSL, most noticeably one in the "Ballets" forum. I'd say that there is a pretty even split amongst those who have expressed an opinion.

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Well, i'm not sure about the consensus, but I think it's ballet; so do most British critics, including the hell-on-pretentious-upstarts whip-smart Quentin Crisp (or at least his writings suggest that). And certainly Crisp, though he doesn't frequent this board, is as fastidious in his way as any of us.

In any case, I do admire it; I feel it's drastic, in fact it's radical, but that it's a faithful interpretatoin of the material, and true to the music. This go-round, without Adam Cooper, this incarnation lacks the classical rigor that made it so coherently tragic when it was new. Cooper was dazzlingly beautiful in hte role, perfectly proportioned classical figure and action, rather dry in his presentatoin, in hte great British manner. His white swan was better than his black one, and the death of Cooper's white swan was truly overwhelming.

By the way, I think the question of the composer's name (which started this thread) is actually a legal one -- the original title ("Tchaikovsky's Swan lake") was the property of Adventures in Motion Pictures, Bourne's production company -- but the managers of that company got far out of line with what Bourne thought he was up to, and he had to split off and start a new company, called New Adventures or something, in order to regain artistic control of his work. Something like that....

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Well, i'm not sure about the consensus, but I think it's ballet; so do most British critics, including the hell-on-pretentious-upstarts whip-smart Quentin Crisp (or at least his writings suggest that).

Alan Vincent, who played the lead in the performance I saw, was quoted in the L.A. Times as saying "I get bored watching ballet" (see the Mar. 8 thread in the Links forum).

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Well, Youoverthere, star dancers sometimes say inflammatory things. Rasta Thomas a couple of years ago said something foolish to the effect that Mark Morris's ballets were not ballet, or something like that, which just indicated the defects of Mr Thomas's virtues. (Maelstrom, in particular, is a beautiful and very great ballet.) He's a splendid dancer in a very particular style, but his education is not broad. I know nothing about Mr Vincent (except that I saw him dance the swan) but I don't see why his views should be thought to be canonical.

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Well, i'm not sure about the consensus, but I think it's ballet; so do most British critics, including the hell-on-pretentious-upstarts whip-smart Quentin Crisp (or at least his writings suggest that).

:smilie_mondieu:

LMAO!! I do this all the time! A few months ago, I mentioned "Quentin Crisp" to a friend and he said, "I didn't know he was a ballet critic!" And recently, I was searching for an interview with Clement Crisp that I read 4 or 5 years ago - but I typed "Quentin Crisp" into google - and I kept getting THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT. This went on for 15 minutes until I realized...

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Well, i'm not sure about the consensus, but I think it's ballet; so do most British critics, including the hell-on-pretentious-upstarts whip-smart Quentin Crisp (or at least his writings suggest that).

:smilie_mondieu:

LMAO!! I do this all the time! A few months ago, I mentioned "Quentin Crisp" to a friend and he said, "I didn't know he was a ballet critic!" And recently, I was searching for an interview with Clement Crisp that I read 4 or 5 years ago - but I typed "Quentin Crisp" into google - and I kept getting THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT. This went on for 15 minutes until I realized...

:yahoo: but The Naked Civil Servant is a wonderful film.

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Well, i'm not sure about the consensus, but I think it's ballet; so do most British critics, including the hell-on-pretentious-upstarts whip-smart Quentin Crisp (or at least his writings suggest that).

:yahoo:

LMAO!! I do this all the time! A few months ago, I mentioned "Quentin Crisp" to a friend and he said, "I didn't know he was a ballet critic!" And recently, I was searching for an interview with Clement Crisp that I read 4 or 5 years ago - but I typed "Quentin Crisp" into google - and I kept getting THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT. This went on for 15 minutes until I realized...

:rofl: but The Naked Civil Servant is a wonderful film.

:off topic: I haven't seen it, but I heard that the best parts of the film are when the main character is either being naked or being civil. It is difficult, though, to be both naked and civil at the same time. (And yes, I've completely lost it.) :smilie_mondieu:

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Matthew Bourne makes it seem as if Peter Ilyich wrote the ballet for him, so much so that we can almost forgive the producers from changing the name of the production from ''Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake" to ''Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake." (Tchaikovsky doesn't even appear on the titles page of the program.)
~ Ed Siegel in The Boston Globe

Okay, I'm willing to concede placing the composer's name after the title but before the choreographer's name in the program, following the conceit that the music probably came before the choreography... but... "changing the name of the production from "Tchiakovsky's Swan Lake"...!

If you want to go to a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, go to a Symphony concert... if it's a ballet production, don't presume shock at the choreographer being credited!

Or am I over-reacting, and the Matthew Bourne production was originally titled "Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake"?

I'd never seen this old thread. I certainly think it ought to be called 'Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake' and not 'Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake', because even if it uses the Tchaikovsky music, it's not a real Swan Lake to me. Maybe it would be if I saw any beauty in it, which I don't personally. I remember threads on Racism in the ballet world or something like that, and how white ballets of the past were no longer feasible, but I can easily see a Black Swan Lake, including mixups about the Odette/Odile reversal easier than I can a Gay Swan Lake--I mean as Real Swan Lake, that is. Some people obviously like these things, I just don't get them. Even the Mats Eck totally-crackers 'Sleeping Beauty' is amusing once, but I never confuse if with being Sleeping Beauty. It seems like the unorthodox productions of things, modernizing, turning films into operas that will translate with some strain, etc,. are popping up in a lot of threads here right now. I'd concede that Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is ballet, since I don't care too much what it's called.

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When I saw this thread pop up, I thought "Oh, what's that? and then Oh! I started this? What??"... no memory whatsoever these days... but... I've been thinking about Carbo's response again...

As for composers' credits in general, well, that's always the first information I want from any review of a ballet I know nothing about. If it's someone I'm familiar with, and if the choreographer has any ear at all, it will tell me more about the work than the next thousand words.

I'd would have to differ... before I want to know the composer, I want to know the choreographer... it makes a big difference to me if it's Balanchine or Bejart... then I want to know the ocmposer amd the dancers.

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When Bourne's version was new, it was widely believed that Tchaikovsky had committed suicide on order from very high at the imperial court, to prevent public exposure of his homosexuality which would disgrace Russia, since his music was so widely known and loved. Balanchine died believing this. SO calling the ballet "Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake" evokedTchaikovsky's homosexuality and his fate and eased the way into seeing a gay-man's tragedy told in poetic terms.

Subsequently, scholars learned that Tchaikovsky was NOT persecuted in fact for his homosexuality, that the tsar and his court were NOT like hte Soviets who fiercely suppressed homosexuality, in life, in art, and especially in artists (who were supposed to live exemplary lives), and that the case for Tchaikovsky'ssuicide was a myth that grew up among intellectuals during hte Soviet era who saw Tchaikovsky as having had a foretaste of hte oppression that THEY were living under.

THe name change was certainly required by law -- the company that had managed Bourne still owned the old name.

Without Adam Cooper, the show lost its center -- another very classical dancer could probably have held it together, but putting a heavy man in the role made it gross.

I would bet my life that the show DID improve Prince Charles's chances of marrying Camilla.

And if you've read this far, you may wonder how I could mistake Quentin Crisp for Clement Crisp, but in fact I always get their names mixed up.

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The story of Tchaikovsky's suicide hinges entirely on the testimony of two court insiders years after the event, of conversations with Tsar Alexander III, who allegedly said, "Then he must be sent away." The story continued with the word of the Tsar's order leaking to Tchaikovsky's university fraternity, who allegedly confronted the composer with some rather unpleasant options. At this time, that fraternity was made up largely of lawyers and dentists, so maybe other stereotypes were being played upon as legend-builders. The supposed object of the composer's attention was an officer in the Household Cavalry of Russia, and he was later killed in battle before the Revolution, so not much chance of testimony from that direction. The whole myth hangs on several turns of events which cannot be proved or disproved conclusively. One thing is correct, though: Alexander III harbored quite reactionary attitudes toward all sorts of human rights issues, which were hardened in place by the assassination of his father, Alexander II.

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Somewhere (where?) I read that Tchaikovsky, broken hearted by rejection of his affections by a young man, had wandered around the city in the winter, not appropriately dressed for the weather, caught pneumonia and died... I want to say I read this in Balanchine's Tchaikovsky but I loaned that book out to a much admired non-native-english speaking accompanist and it somehow never returned... Does anyone have a copy and could check? Or does this version ring a bell with any of you?

Perhaps I've gotten the cholera/pneumonia mixed up... one doesn't catch cholera from wandering around with out a hat... but perhaps he wouldn't have been in such a weakened state to have been suseptible to cholera? I suppose a fraternity of dentists & doctors could have supplied the bad water... ?

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THanks, Mel, for that fleshing out of the account.

Back in the early 80s, a soviet-emigre scholar Alexandra Orlova published an article in a scholarly journal arguing that Tchaikovsky was ordered to commit suicide. It became the official story when hte New Grove DIctionary of Music accepted it and then for several years the matter was aired in hte papers. THe following is from the New York TImes, 1981:

"Mr. Brown's article goes on to tell of research by the Soviet emigre musicologist Alexandra Orlova suggesting that Tchaikovsky took the poison on orders from his old classmates, who had convened a hasty ''court of honor'' after learning of his liaison with a nephew of Duke Stenbock-Thurmor. The Duke had written a letter of protest to the Czar, bringing the longsimmering matter of Tchaikovsky's sexual carryings-on to the point of official scandal."

[http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D02EFD9163BF935A15754C0A967948260]

Solomon Volkov, in his extended interview published as "Balanchine's Tchaikovsky" (1985) makes it clear Balanchine believed this.

BUt soon other scholars , notably Simon Karlinsky of Berkeley, who had welcomed the theory at first, found that the evidence did not warrant the story -- he really did drink a glass of "possibly" cholera-contaminated water at a restaurant and die of cholera as a result. Four docrtors attended Tchaikovsky's deathbed, and all confirmed that it was cholera that killed him; three was also a subsequent investigatino of hte restaurant where he drank the glass of tainted water and found that they had NOT disinfected the water. Many newspaper sccounts appeared informing hte general public about the state of the debate. It was finally espablished firmly that it was chlera -- if there had been a death-wish, fleeting or determined, in the drinking of the glass of water, that remains of course a possibility.

Karlinsky told me that the suicide-by-arsenic-theory seemed to be widely held among Soviet intellectuals but they'd been blinkered by misunderstanding of the mind-set of pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg.

But the story of Tchaikovsky's suicide has great mythic power and probably keep coming back, since it provides such a fitting death given his noble-melancholy personality and his deep insecurities, which you can hear in the music -- many of us want to believe it. The fact that it is not true does not keep it from having a resonance that is even more poignant than the "Russian roulette" way he drank the glass of water after being warned not to.

His death IS linked to the rebirth of Swan Lake, since the the white act of hte new Ivanov/Petipa Swan Lake was rushed into readiness for the Tchaikovsky Memorial concert. That was its first performance.

I still feel that the END of Bourne's Swan Lake is the only one in which the choreography matches the cataclysm that's there in hte music.

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Somewhere (where?) I read that Tchaikovsky, broken hearted by rejection of his affections by a young man, had wandered around the city in the winter, not appropriately dressed for the weather, caught pneumonia and died... I want to say I read this in Balanchine's Tchaikovsky but I loaned that book out to a much admired non-native-english speaking accompanist and it somehow never returned... Does anyone have a copy and could check? Or does this version ring a bell with any of you?

Balanchine says that Tchaikovsky "tried to catch cold, to chill himself to death, and that's not the same thing as committing suicide" when he was married. As to his actual death later on, Balanchine speculates on the story that Tchaikovsky drunk a glass of unboiled tap water in a restaurant during a cholera epidemic. This may have been a "kind of Russian Roulette," a "playing with fate." He says he believes the composer had thought about his death for a long time, that though he was devout and certainly thought suicide a sin, he wrote in a letter that he didn't believe in a punishing God, and that he wrote the "Pathetique "as a kind of suicide note."

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