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Sleeping Beauty - history - from the Covent Garden programme


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The critic Mark Ronan has posted my 2019 article about The Sleeping Beauty on his website (with permission from the Royal Opera House: the piece appeared in their programme for the latest revival). Perhaps people might like to have the link:-

https://www.markronan.com/2020/06/sleeping-beauty/

The article focuses on the first production in order to try and rediscover the original intentions of Petipa, Vsevolozhsky and Tchaikovsky. Although not mentioned in this short piece I also have a personal interest in such issues as tempi and choreographic style, the key research question for me being one of meaning, both of the Sleeping Beauty as a whole and also of the individual scenes, mimes, variations and so on.

Please note that the Royal Opera House did not allow me to write this article academically - with footnotes etc - and asked me just to assert my findings. This may be controversial (for example when I appear to contradict well-known books or leave out stories "everyone knows") but as much as possible is drawn from primary sources.

I am looking for more material, specifically private documents (e.g. diaries, memoirs, correspondence) that might cast light on what was going on in St Petersburg and Paris around 1890. So if anyone knows of a family archive - even just forgotten papers in an attic somewhere - relating to Russia and/or France during the relevant period, I would be delighted to learn more.

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Many thanks for posting the link. Very interesting read. I hope your search ends productively.

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Within a couple of years the new alliance between France and Russia was complete and became public, uniting a secular, liberal republic with a theocratic, absolutist autocracy. Charles Lowe, the Tsar’s first biographer, wrote in 1895 of ‘this unnatural and impossible union between Beauty and the Beast, between Democracy and Despotism’ (Beauty and her Beast, of course, appear in the ballet’s last act procession).

 

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Interesting. Thank you. I'm obsessed with the first production of Sleeping Beauty ever since I saw the reconstruction by the Mariinsky in 1999. 

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Might Sleeping Beauty be an allegory of a possible restoration of the French monarchy, to be performed on the centenary of the Revolution?

Might it also be tweeked to be an awakening to something other than a repressive regime?  Both France and Russia had in common anti-semitic campaigns going on in the 1880s and 1890s. What was happening in the streets impacts in some way what is happening on stage, so "The Sleeping Beauty" may have been a dream of a return to a past where complicated social questions disappeared.

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So began an exceptionally dynamic collaboration between the three of them, who met in St Petersburg at Petipa’s house and also Vsevolozhsky’s, where Tchaikovsky played through scenes as he composed them.

Fyodor Lopukhov in the "Ballet Master and the Score" criticizes some of the cuts Petipa made to Tchaikovsky's score for "The Sleeping Beauty," as if he were a lesser composer like Minkus or Pugni. And that for rehearsals Petipa was relying on a reduction for two violins which emphasized the melody but none of the full dynamic compexity of the score.

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It was utterly improper to ask Tchaikovsky to write a new variation fo Aurora in Act II, but he agreed even to that. Only when one looks at the original version does it become obvious that the first variation is far more consistent with the spirit of the act as a whole. How it must have pained Tchaikovsky to relinquish it! It is easy to see why all the added musical numbers and variations, such as Cinderella’s scene in the last act, seem so different from the rest of "The Sleeping Beauty." Indeed, Tchaikovsky himself honestly admitted that he was following orders for which he had little enthusiasm.

On a happier though off-topic note (which is often the case with happiness these days), I recently came across this letter of Anton Chekhov:

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Moscow, October 14, 1889

To P I Tchaikovsky

I am very, very touched, dear Pyotr Ilych, and thank you infinitely. I am sending you both photograph and book, and would send you even the sun, if it belonged to me.

You left your cigarette case at my place. I am sending it on to you. It is three cigarettes short: they were smoked by a violincellist, a flautist, and a pedagogue.

Thank you once more and permit me to remain                  

Cordially and faithfully yours ...

According to the letters' editor, Avrahm Yarmolinksy, Chekhov and Tchaikovsky were planning to collaborate on an opera version of "A Hero of Our Time." In a subsequent letter Chekhov tells Modest Tchaikovsky that he is dedicating his latest book to his brother titled, characteristically, "Gloomy People."

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I thought violinists played for classes back then, not pianists.  If I've not mis-remembered this, it would make sense that violinists would be the rehearsal musicians, too.

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Posted (edited)

What a most stimulating set of ideas Quiggin, thank you so much for your careful reading.

And thanks also for the great Chekhov letter, perfect for inspiring a good weekend mood. For those who would like a little more, in English and easily accessible, may I recommend the magnificent Tchaikovsky Research website (no doubt well known to many here). A relevant page, with some good links, is here:-

http://en.tchaikovsky-research.net/pages/Anton_Chekhov

To return to that most mysterious of masterpieces, The Sleeping Beauty, might I add a couple of comments? You suggest the 1890 audience might seek a return to a time before "complicated social questions". Indeed but in my piece I go further: I suggest that one strength of the narrative for its intended Russian audience is the possibility of a resolution to complicated social questions. In 1890 Carabosse was not merely vanquished (ubiquitous in modern productions) but later also happily incorporated back into the social order (the first production went to some trouble, using a double, to have Carabosse present at the wedding party in the last act). 

As to antisemitism, this was by no means limited to St Petersburg and Paris during this period. This undercurrent, though undeniably present, may therefore not be particularly helpful when one is trying to understand what was going on between - specifically and only - those two cities. However it may be a theme to consider when looking at (again) Carabosse.  The original designs for this character show her not only - as in the version of the story most familiar to 19thC Russians - old and hunchbacked, but also with a prominent "hooked" and pointed nose. There is some less than wholly convincing scholarship about Carabosse from a couple of writers so, as ever, more research is needed.

Finally, Lopukhov. To be blunt, it is not a good idea to rely on what he says, however colourful. There seems to be an accidental Carabosse theme to this post so, to finish, it was Lopukhov who insisted - when mounting his revival of Beauty in 1923 - that it was "authentic" to the 1890 production if, on first entering during the Prologue, Carabosse and her rats take the places of the King and Queen on their thrones. The Sergeyev notations have no such scene. Again, more research will be necessary to clarify the extent of the lèse-majesté. As my summary article suggests, this may be important to our overall understanding.

On Lopukhov in general, here as so often we can learn from the impeccable and deeply informed writing of Roland John Wiley. It so happens that his coruscating review (in Dance Research, winter 2004) of the translated collection you quote from is currently conveniently available online:
 
Edited by Sebastian
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Thank you, Sebastian, for your detailed response, especially for the note about Carabosse being integrated back into the social order in the 1890 production.

The reason I referred to anti-Seminism in Russia and Paris is that I've recently been reading about the New Odessa Colony, an important commune in Oregon that was set up by some of the many Russian Jews who emigrated during the 1880s. One of the projects of the New Odessans was to build ships that would enable them to rescue prisoners in Siberia – maybe a subject for a Shostakovich opera!

I was attracted to Lopukhov's writings because they were indeed cranky and colorful, and while in parts they may be unrealistic, should they be totally disregarded as the review you linked suggests? Wiley is quite dismissive and spends many pages undoing Lopukhov when one page would seem to do. Sally Banes and Elizabeth Souritz on the other hand give him a quite respectful hearing. Lopukhov's observation that the reduction of music to two violins impacted Tchaikovsky's music to a much greater degree than it did that of composers like Minkus or Pugni who wrote simpler musical lines that were later orchestrated doesn't sound unreasonable. And his opinions on The Sleeping Beauty cuts are interesting. After all Lopukhov was born in 1886 and grew up in the St Petersburg world of theater and ballet, and so, while a kind of "unreliable narrator," he was a witness to the "hum" of the time. Apparently he was an important influence on Balanchine (you can see similar choreographic lines in The Four Temperaments to those in The Magnificence of the Universe) and a colleague of Fokine. Perhaps his writings should be treated like Kandinsky's or Paul Klee's on art? 

Thanks too for the link to the Tchaikovsky page. It was fun reading the other side of the Chekhov correspondence – and the ranking of Tolstoy/Tchaikovsky/Repin.

Edited by Quiggin
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On 7/24/2020 at 3:01 PM, Quiggin said:

Might it also be tweeked to be an awakening to something other than a repressive regime?  Both France and Russia had in common anti-semitic campaigns going on in the 1880s and 1890s. What was happening in the streets impacts in some way what is happening on stage, so "The Sleeping Beauty" may have been a dream of a return to a past where complicated social questions disappeared.

Fyodor Lopukhov in the "Ballet Master and the Score" criticizes some of the cuts Petipa made to Tchaikovsky's score for "The Sleeping Beauty," as if he were a lesser composer like Minkus or Pugni. And that for rehearsals Petipa was relying on a reduction for two violins which emphasized the melody but none of the full dynamic compexity of the score.

On a happier though off-topic note (which is often the case with happiness these days), I recently came across this letter of Anton Chekhov:

According to the letters' editor, Avrahm Yarmolinksy, Chekhov and Tchaikovsky were planning to collaborate on an opera version of "A Hero of Our Time." In a subsequent letter Chekhov tells Modest Tchaikovsky that he is dedicating his latest book to his brother titled, characteristically, "Gloomy People."

Hi! Is Ballet Master and the Score a book? Just tried to look for it but to no results. 

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2 hours ago, Joseph said:

Hi! Is Ballet Master and the Score a book? Just tried to look for it but to no results. 

 

Hi Joseph. Ballet Master and the Score is an essay, not a whole book. If you are looking for an English translation, the review below has all details of a book in which one appears.

 

On 7/25/2020 at 1:20 PM, Sebastian said:

On Lopukhov in general, here as so often we can learn from the impeccable and deeply informed writing of Roland John Wiley. It so happens that his coruscating review (in Dance Research, winter 2004) of the translated collection you quote from is currently conveniently available online:

 

Incidentally, Fedor Lopukhov was three years old when The Sleeping Beauty was first rehearsed and performed.

Edited by Sebastian
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11 hours ago, Sebastian said:

Awesome - got it. I thought it might be from Writings on Ballet and Music... I will order it soon! Appreciate your insight and work Sebastian, thanks! 

Hi Joseph. Ballet Master and the Score is an essay, not a whole book. If you are looking for an English translation, the review below has all details of a book in which one appears.

 

 

Incidentally, Fedor Lopukhov was three years old when The Sleeping Beauty was first rehearsed and performed.

 

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