Review of Sleeping Beauty, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009


What better way to end the Mariinsky Ballet’s tour of London than with this lovely production by Konstantin Sergeyev, with its beautiful sets and costumes by Simon Virsaladze. The corps de ballet danced superbly, Igor Kolb made a very fine prince, and Maxim Zuzin danced delightfully as the bluebird. All might have been well if Pavel Bubelnikov could have done a better job conducting, but the orchestra sounded as if it wasn’t really playing as a team, and each female solo was taken so slowly it became more a sequence of poses than a dance. I’ve never before heard some of Tchaikovsky’s glorious score sound like this, and while the interval timings and the start-time were strictly adhered to, the performance overran by almost twenty minutes. Is no-one in charge of this production? I’ve heard conductors slow down female solos before, because they’ve been asked to by the dancer herself and have entirely overdone it and ruined her solo, but to ruin every female solo in the ballet is extraordinary. Because of this absurd conducting it’s very difficult to judge the many performers, but certainly Evgenia Obraztsova made a poor Princess Aurora, except when partnered by Igor Kolb. In one solo in Act I she was so off the music that she finished it with two bars yet to go. This is a striking difference from her wonderful performance in Spectre de la Rose for the Royal Ballet’s Tribute to Diaghilev in June. It’s difficult to judge the fairy variations in the Prologue when played at this pace, so I’ll say nothing about the performers, but when Ekaterina Kondaurova follows them with the lilac fairy solo the music should lift our spirits. It did nothing of the sort because it sounded like sludge and you simply can’t dance to that — nor could she. The entrance of Islom Baimuradov as Carabosse was not as strong as one might have hoped, and his stage presence seemed a bit weak, but this may be partly due to the production. Out of all the soloists, I thought the Diamond Fairy in Act III did very well — I believe it was Anastasia Petushkova, replacing Irina Golub — but the conducting was a travesty, and it is hardly surprising that the audience was so luke-warm.

As a conductor of both ballet and opera at the Mariinsky, Pavel Bubelnikov is working alongside the opera’s artistic director, Valery Gergiev, whose performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Proms last year was sensational. Bubelnikov may say he’s slowing it down for the dancers, but that won’t wash because in some parts of the score, such as the journey to the enchanted forest, and much of the Rose adagio, there is essentially no dancing, yet they sounded very bland. There was also a production glitch in the journey to the sleeping forest when the barque carrying the prince and the lilac fairy bumped to a sudden halt, so the prince got out, the interior curtain closed and remained closed until the finale of the act. I know that production glitches happen from time to time, but the Mariinsky Ring had far too many of them, and one just has the impression that the stage hands haven’t really got their act together. Pity.

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