Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake / Zurich Ballet [Blu-ray]

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TCHAIKOVSKY Swan Lake Vladimir Fedoseyev, cond; Polina Semionova ( Odette/Odile ); Stanislav Jermakov ( Prince Siegfried ); Arsen Mehrabyan ( Rothbart ); Karin Pellmont ( Queen ); Zurich Op O BELAIR 455 (Blu-ray: 130:00) Live: Zurich 10/2009

Choreographer Heinz Spoerli refers to his Zurich Swan Lake as a “decidedly contemporary production … a Swan Lake for today.” He turns Swan Lake into a conflation of classical mythology and modernist psychodrama. In doing so, he makes Prince Siegfried the emotional focus of the ballet as a tortured, romantic dreamer. Though Spoerli is clearly an advocate of the choreographic techniques of classical ballet, the stage sets are decidedly minimalist. In act I, the courtyard is a bare stage surrounded by stark, angular walls. In the white swan scene, the walls remain with a vague image of the lake (or are they clouds?) projected in the background. Spoerli uses lighting to change and concentrate the mood. Thus, the fiery reds at the end of act I (as a wimpy Siegfried interacts with the animated Rothbart) yield to the customary blues and whites of the swan scene. For the act III ballroom scene, the only props are a group of chairs occupied by men and women sitting motionless in tight-fitting uniforms. This sharply contrasts with the dazzling Polina Semionova as she seduces and dominates Siegfried. The ending is ambiguous. Rothbart is finally pushed aside by Siegfried and remains alone on stage as Odette and Siegfried enter a massive column of water bubbles rear stage. Spoerli states (in the program notes): “an ending which I understand in a many faceted sense as a deliverance. Does this mean that the lovers are saved? Is the spell’s power broken? Are there other kinds of salvation and deliverance? Perhaps even by death and transfiguration?” It’s your call.

The Bolshoi-trained Semionova (Odette/Odile) is tall, almost unbelievably slender (do these dancers ever eat a meal?), and technically just about perfect without resembling an icy robot like Ulyana Lopatkina in the Mariinsky Theatre Swan Lake conducted by Valery Gergiev ( Fanfare 32:5). She is an accomplished actress who combines technical perfection with an almost otherworldly vulnerability as Odette and sizzling sexuality as Odile. Stanislav Jermakov projects a handsome, conflicted, and deferential Prince Siegfried. He is an excellent partner for Semionova. In fact, it is a major accomplishment that he can hold his own with her. Jermakov’s act III variation is explosive. Arsen Mehrabyan is an effective villain, slithering around the stage as the omnipresent Rothbart. Vladimir Fedoseyev tends toward slow tempos in the lyrical music, but he provides ample contrast with the faster dances. This is by far the most nuanced version of Swan Lake that I have heard on Blu-ray, especially when compared to the bludgeon-like Gergiev (Decca) and the bland Valeriy Ovsyanikov (Opus Arte). The Zurich Opera Orchestra yields nothing to the orchestras of the Mariinsky Theatre and the Royal Opera House. The Zurich corps de ballet does not have the precision of the Mariinsky Theatre dancers, but they are more than adequate.

Spoerli’s intense and unique personal vision of Swan Lake encourages extreme close-ups that are tastefully and for the most part seamlessly managed in conjunction with the middle and full stage shots. Blu-ray’s visuals and surround sound further enhance the dramatic impact of the lighting and orchestra.

In conclusion, Semionova, Jermakov, Fedoseyev, and the Zurich Opera Orchestra are all hard to beat individually and as an ensemble. Traditionalists may not be entirely happy with Spoerli’s Swan Lake , but in the hands of these performers, it works very well. I would also like to see Semionova et al. in a more traditional production. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: BAC455

  • UPC: 3760115304550

  • Label: BelAir Classiques

  • Composer: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

  • Conductor: Vladimir Fedoseyev

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Zurich Opera Orchestra