The Financial Times visited Milan's historic theatre to witness Sergei Vikharev's reconstruction of Raymonda – a production which is sending ripples of interest and excitement around the ballet community.
This blog alone, and its associated YouTube channel, has received thousands of extra visits to read about Raymonda, pushing the associated posts to the top of the most viewed list. The countries most interested seem to be America, Russia, Britain and, of course, Italy.
During August when the Mariinsky Ballet was visiting at the Royal Opera House in London, The Financial Times awarded many 4 and 5-star reviews during the three week run. But this is unusual, and they are handed out with caution. With Raymonda, La Scala got a 5-star review and some glowing words for a company which has often puzzled visiting critics in recent years.
Raymonda is not an easy ballet to stage. With its big cast, difficult ballerina role and slight storyline, it has often been overlooked or changed beyond recognition, but Vikharev, who has reconstructed 19th-century ballets for companies round the world, has restored features long dropped from international productions. One of his great strengths is that he has complete faith in Petipa: the story is told as it was originally written, with extensive mime, and as a result everything finally makes sense. The White Lady, a non-dancing role, presides over Raymonda's castle again, and the love story, so forgettable in most versions, benefits from the scale and unhurried rhythm of Acts I and II.
It is the calmness of the storytelling which gives the audience time to enter this fantasy world. Musical cuts can reduce the length of a piece by the clock, but not necessarily in the head. This is not a ballet for the stressed businessman who arrives a minute before the lights dim after having battled with Milanese traffic. The ideal spectator is one who has set apart the evening for the ballet, has maybe read a little of its history beforehand, and doesn't have to catch the last train home: it's a long evening at over three hours. Then it is possible to appreciate “the original painted sets and hundreds of reproduced costumes”. In fact “the production is a true banquet: pomp, circumstance, and an entire world on stage to absorb over the course of an evening.”
The FT's critic Laura Cappelle continues,
For La Scala Ballet, a company that has lacked a clear identity in recent years, this Raymonda is also a strong statement. The numbers involved are unheard of in modern ballet productions: dozens and dozens of dancers and children from La Scala Academy, all impeccably coached, flood the stage as knights, celestial maidens, cherubs or Saracens. With them Raymonda's court is alive again, and the crisp soloist variations and committed character dancing prove the dancers are ready for more challenges.
The company and its soloists come out well from this venture and, as it has already been sold around the world, this Raymonda should become a vital calling card for the La Scala ballet. It is a testimonial to the important work being carried out by Makhar Vaziev who, for thirteen years, was at the helm of the Mariinsky Ballet. Now he is striving to bring the same rigorousity to the Italian company which proved so successful at home in Russia. Buona fortuna!
Photo: Olesya Novikova and Friedemann Vogel in Raymonda, Teatro alla Scala – Marco Brescia/Rudy Armisano
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.