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"One of the hard things about dancing -- particularly in classical ballets -- is that the performance doesn't just depend on us, the dancers. Conductors especially can affect us because they determine the speed of the music, and if they hear it differently from us it can throw our whole performance.

When we have a conductor like Victor Fedotov guesting from the Kirov it's a great luxury because he takes his speeds from the dancers, unlike many conductors over here who don't adjust their tempi at all -- they play the music as they would a concert score. In Russia dancers seem to wield more power though, so conductors like Fedotov will speed up or slow down the orchestra to suit the dancing.

When we work with him it's wonderful to get so much attention, but it can be unnerving. At first I couldn't get used to the way he'd virtually stop the orchestra whenever I took a balance, and wait for me to come down before he started up again. Because I'm so used to having to keep time with the orchestra I kept on balancing longer and longer as he slowed down, and both the music and I nearly ground to a halt."

Life in Dance
by Darcey Bussell. 1998. page 66

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This topic interests me in both ballet and opera. How are these "things" woeven together? Who makes the decisions about how the music is to "sound? How much input do the dancers, or in the case of opera, have? If they are subordinate the executive decisions of the conductor or the AD, choreographer, Ballet master or the producer, why is this so?

Are any of these musical "decisions" made with a consensus, or are they always hierarchical and your decision matrix is defined by your job description.

Placido Domingo is both a tenor on stage and a conductor of the orchestra. He wears several different hats at different times. His comments on this would be interesting.

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This is always interesting, but at the outset, it is surely the case that the opera singers and orchestra are not nearly as often in a state of alienation with each other as are dancers with their orchestras. We've had NYCB dancers tell us how it was so rare an exception for a dancer to make a serious criticism to a conductor, that only one example was remembered. It goes without saying that this doesn't mean the dancers didn't have serious grievances about the orchestra tempi and other matters.

This is the fault of both musicians and dancers, but had probably always been there. It has not evolved so that dancers would be specifically trained enough in more of the technical aspects of music. And while opera singers are often not nearly as knowledgeable about music beyond vocal styles the way instrumentalists have to be, they sometimes are, and in any case, even with having to work on many other aspects like acting and different kinds of projection, they are definitely stuck with being musicians and so have to know a minimum--this always makes interaction much more possible with opera and other singers, even if the interaction is hostile and there is a lot of fighting. Dancers are not usually musicians as well (in the sense that Sander0 points out that Domingo is both singer and conductor--of course even then he is exceptional in almost every way, being a genius of an opera man), so they are then either musical to greater and lesser degrees. Balanchine was both a fine musician and great choreographer, but this is not usually the case.

Plus, things Helene have said about orchestras being part of the ballet and opera, as they are in Russia, Paris, London, and Vienna, makes for the better sort of orchestra, paradoxically, than those which are exclusively ballet orchestras. I haven't been to NYCO for many years, but I would imagine the orchestra is more reliable there than at NYCB. But here we get the glorious Metropolitan Opera Orchestra which would be unthinkable any other way (unfortunately for NYCB or ABT, they cannot also have the Met Orchestra, so this isn't at all like that usual European doubling). From what I've gathered from recent glut of opera and ballet DVD watching is that even the slightly smaller European orchestras, as with RDB and Royal Swedish Ballet, have the same orchestras for both opera and ballet (correct me if I've got this wrong.)

This doesn't directly address the matter innopac has brought up about Fedotov, though, but those points quoted from Bussell are revealing and may describe why the recentLY-watched Kirov DVD's of SB are so good--in that case, the orchestra and dancers are wed in a comprehensive way I've never even begun to see in even the best American productions. But what Helene has said about this combination opera/ballet orchestra has definitely got to be better than the Met being the only place that isn't a purely instrumental orchestra being way up to those standards (and the Met is.)

Complaints about the NYCB orchestra have been frequent, but something else I recently watched made them seem much better than just having the 'occasional good night' with Maurice Kaplow doing less prestissimo, etc. A performance of of 'The Marriage of Figaro' by the summer Drottningholm opera in Sweden sounds less good than student opera performances I heard in Aspen, Colorado decades ago at the Aspen Music School. But 'Figaro' is so happy a piece that, if there is at least some good singing by somebody in it, you don't get furious at the hard time the little orchestra is having, esp. singers and orchestra not being together a lot of the time. This kind of provincial thing does not work as well for heavier 19th things like 'Rigolette' (heavy in terms of vocal demands), in which bad singing just sounds bad (and one's perception is much less forgiving, as in an Alfredo Kraus 'Rigoletto' from Parma I recently watched--he sounds marvelous but you 'skip to the good parts' and then get a Met recording with Domingo--but I've gone on about these provincial orchestras also because after watching (and accepting within its range) that Drottningholm performance (which is in Stockhom but is not the same thing as the Royal Swedish Opera and its orchestra, which is thoroughly professional, and you can hear this same excellence on the RSB's 'Swan Lake', one of several reasons to watch this good, but not great SW), I began to realize that the NYCB, even if it's got horns which persist in the rude noises, it is still usually pretty serviceable at least by comparison to many squawky and squeaky orchestras--except when the tempi are sped up so that the dancers have to rush like crazy. The European model won't be emulated, I imagine, though, so it's a matter of whether the Musical Directors are satisfying to dancers and audience. I've heard people praise and condemn Karoui; I hated what he did with 'Nutcracker' in Xmas 2006, but maybe he's good at some things.

An important point, though, is that balletomanes, even when noticing bad ballet orchestra work, do not usually let that stop them from attending (it does stop me.) Metropolitan Opera goers would NOT be the same about frequently sloppy orchestra work.

Now that I think about it, since most of the great European companies have the same setup Helene described, I see that most ballet and opera are also in the same house, and that this same opera/ballet orchestra must also be the case at La Scala, so that you would always be getting great orchestra work, but whether these people that do both forms are equally sensitive to dancers or less so than even somewhat sloppy but exclusively ballet orchestras, I'd be interested to know, as it may vary tremendously. There's an old thread by nysusan on the Vienna State Ballet's SW, and that is not even a very famous ballet company from what I can tell; but this is one of the ones that has the same orchestra, which would allow for fine playing at all times.

So it's two issues, isn't it, with the ballet orchestras? Do they play well enough as musicians? and Do they often play with the Fedotov sensitivity to the dancers? I know that some had criticized Gergiev as not being sensitive enough to the dancers till he conducted NYCB last year, and then the reports were that he had been fully successful, and that one could wish for more of it. Maybe a 3rd issue too: Do these orchestras that play for both opera and ballet naturally play equally well for the dancers. I would think the discipline is such that they would, but would like to hear about this too. I did read that the Vienna State Opera Orchestra players are schooled there before being eligible for the Vienna Philharmonic. This indicates that the very finest orchestras are still going to be the symphony orchestras, though. And why the greatest opera conductors are not averse to seeing that job as a step up.

The Vienna Phil. wiki says this: "The members of the orchestra are chosen from the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. This process is a long one, with each musician having to prove their capability for a minimum of three years playing for the Opera and Ballet. Once this is achieved they can then ask the Board of the Wiener Philharmoniker to consider their application for a position in the Vienna Philharmonic."

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I attended one of the Gergiev performances at the NYCB. I am not familiar with their orchestra or any problems with it.

But what struck me is that Gergiev seemed to be able to get a heck of a lot from that orchestra. I don't why or how he did it, but I could hear it. I still don't know how he worked with the dance side in the tempi etc. but as I recall it was pretty fast, and I wonder if this is true, and whose decision this would have been? Does anyone know how the company's dancers reacted to his conducting those ballets?

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A professional trombone player playing for the ballet for the first time commented to me how challenging it was for musicians because of the varying tempi. For one ballerina the same passage would have a different tempo and perhaps a longer rubato or hold than for another ballerina. This could be due to the dancer's skill and/or interpretation. And if there are 3 or 4 different casts during a season there is quite a bit of variation in the performances -- unlike during a normal concert season.

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A professional trombone player playing for the ballet for the first time commented to me how challenging it was for musicians because of the varying tempi. For one ballerina the same passage would have a different tempo and perhaps a longer rubato or hold than for another ballerina. This could be due to the dancer's skill and/or interpretation. And if there are 3 or 4 different casts during a season there is quite a bit of variation in the performances -- unlike during a normal concert season.

:dunno: This is a most interesting point, if anyone from the original Royal Ballet Touring Company reads this post, no doubt it will bring back memories. There were two main Conductors, who were employed at the time, Ashley Lawrence and Terence Lovett. Ashley was a lovely person, quite refined, quiet and very considerate. Whilst Terence was also a good guy, he could be a bit bombastic. His nickname was Terr ar.... Terry. He was the vain of the dancers, and if the mood took him, he could end the performance minutes early. Especially if he fancied a bevy at the local hostalry !!! Many times my job meant I had to be in the wings, where I witnessed his break neck baton twirling., and it was obvious how much effect it had on the dancers and of course the length of the performance. The pace was often varied, and from what musician friends in the orchestra would comment, there was an element of humour in his representation of the score. Often to the cost of the dancers I am sorry to say. It seemed he was determined to do his own thing, despite discussion on their preferred tempi with soloists and stars alike. I remember him as a short plump jolly man, always in a hurry. :tiphat:

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