Review: La Scala in The Sleeping Beauty at Royal Opera House

Performance: 25 - 29 July 07
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 27 July 2007

The Sleeping Beauty is, as everyone should know, a tale of good triumphing over bad; the pure magic of the Lilac Fairy defeating the Wicked Witch, Carabosse. In this performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s first version of the classic ballet – he made five in all – the bad spells enchanted more than just the sleeping princess. Many were afflicted, but good still triumphed in the end.

Although La Scala Ballet can trace its roots back into the eighteenth century this is only its second London season. Perhaps the exclusivity of the occasion got to the dancers, because a viral nervousness spread through many soloists, affecting several of the fairy variations in the Prologue and ending with an unfortunate fall in the third Act for the Blue Bird, as the lactic acid took hold as he finished the coda to his pas de deux. The still-grinning Antonio Sutera gamely hobbled on to the final note, limping off to sympathetic applause.

Aurora was not immune to this curse, either. Marta Romagna is an engaging dancer with a lovely, loose extension. She lacked the necessary attack in her entrance solo and struggled at the beginning of the Rose Adagio (an immense test of balance and technique for any ballerina) but finished with bravado. Unfortunately, Carabosse’s needle did more than put her character to sleep for the second Act, in which her balance and elegant finishing positions often proved elusive.

Somehow, the Blue Bird’s injury broke the spell, and for the final ten minutes, a different company seemed to take the stage. Firstly, Mick Zeni and Antonella Luongo sparkled with brio and humour in their brief feline duet (as Puss in Boots and the White Cat) and then a thoroughly revived leading ballerina performed a good grand pas de deux with her Prince (Guillaume Côté). Marta’s adagio variation was danced with an exquisite lyricism and their partnering synchronised movement and musicality effectively although still lacking vigour, especially in the over-cautious fish dives.

The Canadian Guest dancer, Guillaume Côté was blissfully immune to the bad spell of nervous tension. Nureyev’s choreography for the Prince, created originally for himself, gives the male lead a more elaborate role than is usual, including three long variations in the second Act. Although sometimes languid and expressionless, Côté was up to all the challenges Nureyev had set for himself: not only were these soulful solos very fine, but they were more than matched by the dynamism of his elevation and bounce and clarity of technique in the final variation from the pas de deux.

The choreography is also very intricate for the corps de ballet, especially in the prologue where many dancers revolve around the stage in formations that pass through each other like a cat’s cradle. La Scala’s corps de ballet is justifiably renowned for its uniformity. This production is a beauty to look at with sumptuous (albeit sometimes incongruous) set and costume designs by Franca Squarciapino. But despite these pluses, it would have been a very damp squib if that final flourish hadn’t helped restore some faith in a performance that had earlier been so bedevilled by mishap. Thankfully, once again, and in more ways than one, the Lilac Fairy (or was it Harry Potter?) returned to restore some magic.

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