Cast of thousands
by Odile GB
July 29, 2004 -- The Royal Opera House, London
"Spartacus", choreographed in 1968 by Yuri Grigorovich to Aram Khachaturian's magnificent score is the ballet equivalent of a monumental, historical Hollywood epic. It tells the story of the legendary Thracian hero who led the rebellion of gladiators and slaves in Rome in the first century A.D.
In keeping with the story there are lots of crowd scenes featuring Roman soldiers, gladiators, slaves, shepherds and Roman nobles. Although there are also female slaves, shepherdesses and courtesans this is clearly a ballet about men. In order to really work the piece relies heavily on a strong cast in its four lead roles, with Spartacus and his love Phrygia on one side and the Leader of the Roman Army, Crassus, and the Courtesan Aegina on the other.
Thursday saw Dimitri Belogolovtsev and Vladimir Neporozhny in the leads. Belogolovtsev was every inch the honourable hero and Neporozhny seemed so full of cold aristocratic arrogance that I could not help but take an instant dislike to him. Anna Antonicheva as Phrygia made the most of her tragic fate and it was quite heartbreaking to watch as the violent death of her beloved threw her into despair. The contrast of her character's sweetness and virtue to Aegina's wickedness could not have been stronger. Galina Stepanenko really sparkled as the scheming temptress who would not let anything get in the way of her ambition. She would do anything to ensure Crassus's success, whom she views as her ticket into good Roman society; and in the end it is she who delivers the rebels into the hands of Crassus' men, having offered them wine and whores.
The ballet works exceptionally well from a story telling point of view, switching back and forth between scenes that move the plot forward and individual character's monologues which allow them to express their most intimate feelings and aspirations. Apart from the love duets it is here that we see our hero's softer and thoughtful side which makes the character of Spartacus three dimensional. Grigorovich's strong choreography combined with Khachaturian's powerful score simply cannot fail to engage, and having never seen the ballet before it certainly kept me on the edge of my seat. Judging by the enthusiastic applause at the end the audience at the Opera House was taken in too.
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