A disaster at its 1877 premiere, the fantastical Swan Lake was revived in 1895 and has since established itself as the most popular ballet ever. Daniel Barenboim, conductor of this sumptuous performance at Berlin's Staats... more »oper Unter den Linden (of which he is artistic director and general musical director) says "Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is a masterpiece that transcends its time!" The production uses choreography adapted and subtly modernized by Patrice Bart from the 1895 staging, which combined with elegant costume and set design results in a very traditional and thoroughly engaging evening's entertainment. Barenboim ensures that Tchaikovsky's score is a romantic delight, the ensemble dancing is highly polished, Oliver Matz passionately intense as Prince Siegfried, Steffi Scherzer making an enchanting fairytale heroine. The DVD's generally excellent anamorphically enhanced picture is almost completely free of grain, a slight soft focus in mid and long shots probably more attributable to the live production being shot on video rather than any fault in the transfer. Mastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound mix is sensibly tied to the screen, the rear channels used to enhance live ambience, subtly establishing an effective sense of "being there." While the only "special feature" is a plot synopsis, the superior booklet also provides a synopsis, notes on Tchaikovsky and the writing of the ballet, the performance, and the performers. --Gary S. Dalkin, Amazon.co.uk« less
In some ways excellent but not your first Swan Lake
I. Martinez-Ybor | Miami, FL USA | 09/20/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Tchaikowsky's Swan Lake probably presents the greatest textual difficulties of any ballet in the repertoire. The first production in Moscow was a failure. The second at the then Mariyinski (now the Kirov), after Tchaikowsky's death, was the work of two master choreographers whose marked stylistic differences enhanced the thematic variety between the "white acts (II and IV) " choreographed by Ivanov, and the "color-full acts" (I and III) choreographed by Petipa. They also made a crazy quilt of Tchaikovsky's score, changing some items around, deleting others, adding Tchaikovsky piano pieces (orchestrated by Ricardo Drigo) and interpolating bits by Minkus. It was a success that has lasted to this day. An unintended legacy of this initially effective approach has been that SWan Lake has been considered re-interpretative fair game by varied and lesser talents. Miraculously, Ivanov's second act remains relatively untouched. It is one long love duet that has become the very definition of classical ballet, the steps and patterns so chaste, so appropriate, so beautiful and so ingrained in the collective balletic consciousness that it has mercifully intimidated choreographers through the decades and remained devoid of tampering in general (well.... Balanchine tweaked a thing here and there, and added a coda to the central pas de deux). All this to justify why, worthy though this effort from Berlin is, it should not be anyone's first Swan Lake. I will always advise to start with the Russians. The only one available on DVD so far is the Kirov: a sumptuous production, danced superbly, with the romantic restraint characteristic of the company. It enshrines stylistic traits that identify it as Russian ballet.... Swan Lake's score will allow it to be nothing else. For example, the folkloric tilt of the heads in the cygnet pas- de-quattre, or the way females use their backs, nowhere more obvious than in the Spanish dance (Act III), but also central to the swans, the flow of the arms, etc. So start in St. Petersburg..... you can't go wrong.As to this Berlin production. The good: never have I heard the score played as well on any performance. The Staatskapelle Berlin outdoes itself, Barenboim makes the score clear, moving and vibrant (even if at times his tempos are a bit slow for the dancers to show off). He brings the orchestra on stage for a bow at the end of the performance.... well deserved (the DVD sound is very good). The Staatsoper company is excellent.... I would never have expected such lyrical dancing from a German company (so much for stereotypical thinking). The principals are outstanding, with special kudos to Steffi Scherzer, a dancer I did not know before this and who is truly gifted. But all are fine and worthy of greater exposure. The bad is pretty bad: an Oedipal, unsubtle and melodramatic supertext has been imposed on the fairy tale creating a meaty dance role for the Queen (à la Matthew Bourne), a mime part in all other productions I know and which the late Lucia Chase relished performing occassionally with "her" company, ABT. Then there is the gay infatuation Benno has for the prince...... why? it doesn't contribute anything nor go anywhere....I guess it's decorative. There is even a hint of palace intrigue since von Rothbart now seems to be a Prime Minister who gets strangled by the Prince at the end. Does it work? Not really. All this added to&fro needs music and stage time which is robbed mostly from Act III. The national dances are truly shortshrifted when they can be exciting. Perhaps Mr. Bart should have allowed more of Petipa in what Petipa did best, and refrain from doing what he obviously has not mastered. So.....all told, I enjoyed it. Even the bad stuff has the redeeming quality of sounding so good. I would have given this performance 3 stars but for the superlative work of the orchestra. If you are a lover of Swan Lake and know it, get it. If it is your first acquaintance with the work.... go elsewhere. I recommend the Kirov (I particularly enjoy the introduction of some black swans among the white in Act IV to Tchaikowsky's Valse Bluette, orchestrated by Drigo, a lovely, appropriately melancholy dance, even if the result of the hodge-podge prone masterpiece bequeathed to us by Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa..... and Tchaikovsky."
Pre-Oedipal Fixations In Pre-Revolutionary Russia
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 11/25/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I never saw a Swan Lake that failed to move me - until I watched this one. Patrice Bart, associate director of the Paris Opera Ballet has modified the story for this production, which was sensationally successful in Germany and in France. It is a 2 act instead of a 4 act version, as each indoor scene is combined with the following lakeside scene. In his version, the story takes place around 1900 at the court of Nicholas II. Prince Siegfried is a sensitive young man who is besieged by expressions of incestuous desire from his dominant mother, the Queen, and by homo-erotic longings from his close friend, Benno. The Queen's intentions towards her son and the paralyzing effect of her seduction on him are played (or danced) out from their first piece together (30:00 - manipulating seduction and rejection in the service of control). The jealous Queen and her Prime Minister Rotbart become major dancing roles. The Queen's role in particular grows monstrously until she dominates the ballroom scene at the expense of the Russian and Hungarian dances (1:27:40). These dances are pushed to the background while a crude oedipal triangle is being played out, whereby the Queen dances with her Prime Minister Rotbart in order to arouse Siegfried's jealousy. This theme isn't really developed or integrated into this version in a coherent manner, but as a ballet piece their dances in the beginning of the ballroom scene are very impressive. This evil Queen and Rotbart have a more significant scheme anyway, which is played out at the end of this scene, not before they get in the way and inflict some damage on an otherwise exciting all male Mazurka, led by Benno (1:42:22). The Swan Lake's ballroom scene is a Dionysian eruption that ends in a rude awakening, but the dominance of this annoying Queen in this scene pretty much kills the almost orgiastic element. The sets for the 2 indoor scenes are in the spirit of art nouveau. The décor, costumes and choreography for the two "white" lakeside scenes remain almost untouched, with a pure cold beauty. Siegfried's strangling of Rotbart in the finale of the last scene (2:26:30) and the irritating reappearance of the sorrowful Queen look like a silent movie melodrama (i.e. a farce). The only response that I felt was regret that Siegfried didn't strangle his mother, or at least slash her seductive throat the moment she started to castrate him emotionally and stand between him and his sexual and emotional maturity to fulfill her own perverse needs. It has become a cliché to describe Barenboim's lethargically inane conducting as "contemplative". I loathe Barenboim both as a conductor as well as a public persona. He gets exactly what he wants from the Staatskapelle Berlin, i.e. a perfectly polished and disciplined performance. This controlled polished quality of the production renders it sterile in my humble opinion. Tchaikovsky is considerably wilder than that. This is what I like about the Bolshoi and particularly the Kirov swan lakes: not only the perfect dancing but the somewhat uncontrolled brooding romanticism that was at the heart of the Russian soul. This seemingly spontaneous or natural hyper-emotionality that can felt in the less than perfectly polished Russian orchestras and (some) conductors has an appealing quality even when underlined with old fashion pathos.So what do we have so far: a dominant mother who schemes with her Prime Minister, a prince in a bisexual context struggling in vain to achieve separation-individuation, pop-psychoanalytic themes - is Matthew Bourne my private idiosyncratic free association to all of this? Isn't Patrice Bart concerned about being perceived as mounting a watered- down version of Bourne's revolutionary work, or am I missing something? Bourne's Swan Lake was completely coherent and his choreography created a new language that is congruent with Tchaikovsky's forms but brought them to new levels of meaning. Maybe this is the first sign that all swan lakes shall be produced henceforth in Bourne's shadow.However, this over the top nasty review should be taken with a grain of salt. It represents my private reaction to the psychological themes that form the basis of the choreography. Ballet is first and foremost a dancing piece rather than a dramatic one. This new choreography includes a lot of technically tricky, nimble-footed dances for the leading roles as well as for large groups. These are executed with hair-raising perfection by the Berlin troupe. Odile does her 32 fouettes rather fast (2:04:04); the camera catches 28 of the 32, but this is part of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Margot Fonteyn does "only" 28 in the Nureyev film. I suppose they stop when they feel dizzy (do they count?). It is an enjoyable performance and certainly one that provokes you to think.The performance was recorded for High Definition TV with superior picture and Dolby digital 5.1 sound quality. The camera work is highly professional and has a perfect balance between close-ups and distant shots with a slight soft focus in mid and long shots probably more attributable to the live production being shot on video rather than any fault in the transfer. The DVD is beautifully presented in a clear plastic case and is accompanied with a 30-page booklet (which has a wrong count for the cues). This is an ARTHAUS DVD imported from Germany - may this be a harbinger of things to come."
Very Satisfying for the Most Part
Stephen McLeod | New York, NY USA | 08/21/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Scaled 1-10. DVD Video - 9.0 - Lovingly directed. Very thoughtful and gratifying photography.
Sound - 9.0 - Barenboim and the Staatsoper Orchestra's work here is extraordinary, a rare thing in Ballet. Barenboim takes this music seriously. The Digital 5.1 sound is full and just what you'd expect from a well-made DVD.
Steffi Scherzer (Odette/Odille): 9.5 - Miss S. is enormously talented and, in many places, breathtaking, even though she seems a little long in the tooth. Her performance is languid, and she seems ever-conscious here that she is playing someone who is part-bird.
Oliver Matz (Prince Siegfried): 7.5 - is not as good, but still competent. Plus, even though his technique is a little rough edged (in places it looks too hard for him; plus he's a terrible partner), he brings a very pleasant lightness to the steps, especially in his otherwise too noticably difficult solo that begins the first "white" scene. The choreography here appears to be derived from Nureyev's in his production available on DVD featuring Margot Fonteyn, if a little dumb-downed, which if you're not Nureyev is of course unavoidable. Swan Lake is not a ballet about Odette/Odille; it is about the prince. More and more, this is recognized and here amplified into the central truth about the role and the ballet itself. Overall, Matz is memorable, which says a lot.
Jens Weber(Benno): 7.0 - Usually a mime part, this Benno is essential to this production's plot-heavy interpretation. His technique is a little raw, but overall, his dancing is pleasant to watch.
Bettina Thiel - (the Queen): 9.0 - Very nice to watch, beautiful lines, soulful acting. Like Benno, the Queen is usually a pantomime role. Here, she is central to the story, so it's good that she has a lot of dancing to do. The most exceptional moment is her solo scene, which is danced during the prelude to Act II (Act III in most productions).
Corps: 9.95 - Exquisitly danced and photographed. The white scenes are mesmerizing. I have three Swan Lakes on DVD. This is the one I watch the most. Half a point off for the dancing in the first and third scenes: excellent, but not as ethereal as the white acts. This is probably inevitable given the dreamlike nature of the white scenes and the more solid presence of the corps in those scenes.
Production: 8.5 - Traditionally set in the 13th century or whatever - fairy tale time - this is set in what appears to be late 19th century (during the full color scenes). So what? The white scenes are more traditional and inevitably more important. The first and third scenes are innovative, and provide the context for this mildly controversial revision."
Exquisite rendition of Swan Lake
Yamilet Hennebery | Miami, Fl United States | 01/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is probably the best commercially available Swan Lake. Steffi Scherzer is a lyrical and effective Odette/Odile and the corps de ballet is outstanding. The orchestra conducted by Barenboim is an absolute delight. The orchestra and the dancers are so well integrated that there are no miscues, none!!
This Swan Lake is set in the 19th century, but do not let this worry you. The gowns are exquisite and flowing, which adds an airy effect to the choreography of the ballroom scene. The white scenes are otherwise conventional. The finale will also surprise you since Siegfrid's mother plays a significantly more involved role. Siegfrid fights Robarth in desperation of having lost Odette and kills him. Robarth while dying, reminds Siegfrid that the spell will not be broken with his death, but that Odette will die as well. Siegfrid kills himself when he realizes he has sealed Odette's fate. Finally, Siegfrid's mother looks for her son in the woods and finds him lying in the fog next to Robarth. She tries to wake him up and goes mad when realizing he is dead. Still my favorite ending is that of the American Ballet theater production, in which Odette dies as a swan when Siegfrid and Robarth kill each other, but this comes close enough. The orchestra and corps are just exquisite, you will enjoy this one."
Review for the Fan, not the Dancer
M. Roode | East Coast USA | 03/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As an admitted non-dancer (not since age 8, anyway), but a major fan of the ballet and the Swan Lake story, I am primarily targeting others like myself with this review. I hope that ballet might eventually come to be enjoyed by the general public, as movies are.
I recently had the opportunity to watch both this and the Makarova version of Swan Lake, and I must say this one is tops on account of two things: all of the dancers, both principle and corps, are nearly perfect. By this I mean not so much that you'll be impressed by the dancing (which you will), but that the lack of mistakes means you can be completely swept away by the eloquent story-telling, without mistakes to distract you. Compare this to the Makarova version, where everybody except her and Dowell is messing up, which makes it rather difficult to enjoy the good stuff.
Second and quite importantly, the dancers (with the possible exception of the guy playing Rotbart) all have an obvious emotional investment in their roles. Scherzer is convincing as both the shy, innocent Odette and as the conniving, seductive Odile. Her prince is an equally compelling character whose facial and bodily expressions run the gamut of human emotion, so that he is able, as I believe few dancers really are, to maintain both your interest and your sympathy in a fairly long solo. Best of all, these two leads have real chemistry on-stage. Again, in the Makarova version, Dowell is completely DULL as the prince, like he's been emotionally castrated. (Which is not fair, because Makarova is an AMAZING Odette and deserved a much better partner.)
Final notes: The Queen and Rotbart dance gets very long and will have you shifting in your seat, so this would be a good time to get up and make yourself some popcorn. The costumes are beautiful and the sets are refreshingly minimalist. The swan formations during the final scene are incredible and the camera here is actually able to show them, as the image and sound quality is tops. Scherzer is stunning and your heart will break watching her farewell. This is an excellent Swan Lake to own. Rent the other version just to see Makarova herself."