Royal Opera House, London
22nd July 2010
Of all the great nineteenth century ballets, it is true to say that Coppelia is least often performed and my own viewings of this work have been few and far between. Generally regarded as a good piece to take the kids to, it conjures up matinees of ice-cream smeared tots running up and down the aisles in provincial theatres. A more grown up experience was needed and with this beautiful Bolshoi production, that’s what we’ve got.
This version of Coppelia is another carefully crafted reconstruction by the ballet world’s very own living treasure, Sergei Vikharev, and certainly has an authentic feel of the time in which it was first choreographed. It looks so very good, with the girls all dressed in those most flattering costumes of nineteenth century cut and with the sets looking pristine and pretty, creating a time and place where the locals sweep in dancing a mazurka without a care in the world.
Out of place in the village is unresponsive self-absorbed Coppelia who sits alone in her upper room engrossed in her book who disregards the friendly waves of young Swanilda (Natalia Osipova) and even more puzzling she shows no interest in the flirty overtures of Swanilda’s very handsome boyfriend Franz (Ruslan Skvortsov). This is because Coppelia is in reality an automaton, the creation of Dr Coppelius (Gennady Yanin) who keeps her and his other creations safely away from prying eyes behind locked doors. Swanilda after finding the old doctor’s front door key wants to investigate a mystery and more gullible Franz with the aid of a ladder simply wants to meet the pretty girl with what he assumes is an over protective father.
Act two is never much fun for the dancer playing Franz as he sits slumped over the table after being drugged by Coppelius, Franz’s lack of dancing opportunities can perhaps be attributed to the fact that the role was originally a role for a girl, but for Swanilda and her pals the unusual inhabitants of Coppelius’s house first terrify and then amuse as the automata go through their paces. Osipova has a lot of fun pretending to be Coppelia come to life and performing Spanish and Scottish dances for the old doctor’s entertainment between desperately trying to rouse Franz from his stupor, but generally this act is the weakest in terms of dance content.
The third act sees order restored and reconciliation between Swanilda and her roving boyfriend and is the choreographic heart of the ballet with a real gem of a pas de deux for the two lovers, some wonderful ensemble work and solos for four of the girls.
Vikharev bases this production on one staged by Petipa and Cechetti in 1894, in turn based on the original by Arthur Saint-Léon and there are a few differences from other productions I've seen, mainly embellishments stripped away, a good example being the ‘prayer’ solo. The character of Coppelius was less grotesque than usual and some of the often superfluous humour has gone; whether this is to the advantage of the work or not must be up to the individual viewer but I personally enjoyed the straight forwardness of this production and the emphasis more on dance than stage business. And that dancing was superb, with the corps de ballet showing its strength in both character and classical items. The two principals were excellent but perhaps Skvortsov is a little too princely and less the village Jack-the-Lad to be totally convincing. Osipova is one of the company’s brightest stars and her every step is to be admired and marvelled over: she is a joy to watch. Of the third act soloists Krysanova as Dawn and Anna Leonova as Folly were especially note worthy, but the dancing standard was high all round. The Bolshoi seems very much in tune with these restoration projects and I very much hope that Mr Vikharev is able to uncover more historical gems for them in the future.