25 October 2006

Coppelia, Royal Opera House, 24th October 2006

I often say that seeing certain productions are like eating an entire box of liqueur chocolates in one go – very little substance and you find yourself rather overwhelmed with goo at the end. “Die Fledermaus” is one of them, and “Coppelia” the other. When the production is the tired old warhorse designed by Osbert Lancaster, which the Royal Ballet have been trotting out for the past 45 years or so, the goo factor is so high that its like wading through a vat of golden syrup and trying to fight off attacks by hordes of marshmallows. Lancaster’s set designs and costumes always veer towards the stickily sentimental, and this production is no exception. Set in a gingerbread “mittel-European” village (the kind where everyone suddenly decides to wear matching outfits for the day – this is “Ballet-ville” after all) Lancaster piles on the whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles until one is left feeling more than slightly nauseous. Maybe he was having a slightly colour-blind day when he chose to team cherry red blouses with pale olive skirts, or acid yellow blouses (with green spots) with white skirts, or forest green tights with burgundy waistcoats, so I did feel really sorry for many of the corps de ballet. But their dancing really could not be faulted – it was brisk, crisp and workmanlike, and can't have been easy in cherry red calf high boots (the lucky outfitters must have thought Christmas had come early when the call from the Costume Deparment came - "We want 50 pairs of cherry red, calf high boots and we want them NOW". Some nice cameo performances as well – the Burgomaster’s daughter managed to convey pride and haughtiness in a lovely pas de deux with Franz. However, the same could not be said for “Dawn”, who was underpowered and rather stiff when she should have completely held the stage and sparkled, and “Prayer” who was extremely wobbly and, I think, put her foot down to steady herself on several occasions. All three of the “Hours of the Day”, “Work” and “Hours of the Night” vignettes were very well performed and extremely prettily and effectively costumed – the tiaras made out of ears of corn for “Work” were a nice touch, as were the star-sparkled overskirts and jet black bodices of “Night”.

I had a problem to with Marianela Nunez’s “Swanhilda”. She seemed to be dancing in a very brittle fashion, with little sense of line or feeling. Although no doubt technically correct in every way, her performance appeared to me to be all technique and very little feeling. The fixed rictus of a smile displayed on her face rarely made it as far as her eyes – only in the small solo in Act 1 where Swanhilda is chasing a butterfly did she really seem to be inhabiting the role. Thiago Soares was suitably cocky as Franz and displayed an impressive pair of thighs. Full marks to the chap playing the thankless (and largely non-dancing) role of Dr. Copellius with nice touches of slightly dotty evil intent. I do loathe it when a gaggle of hyperactive Royal Ballet School pupils storm the stage, especially when their tutors have failed to instruct them not to gurn constantly at the audience – someone should tell them that its pointless squinting into the auditorium looking for Mummie and Deddie. One of the boys forgot to take his hat off for “Prayer” – it’s the salt mines for you, chum, when you get back to class.

Not really much more to be said about this dry heave of a production other than that its time that the Royal Ballet ditched it and launched a new version.
I always feel sorry for the poor cow playing Coppelia. Although she gets the title role, the character is no more than a cipher in the plot, having nothing to do except sit in the window of Dr. Coppelius’ house (which looked rather like the “Hammer House of Horror” stuck in the middle of acres of gingerbread) and wave her arms about a bit, then get dragged on (literally) at the end of Act 2 dressed in a bodysuit. Still, at least Swanhilda’s friend didn’t drop the key to the door and kick it into the pit this time. Oh, and note for Ms. Nunez – try acting “unlocking the door” next time, rather than just pushing it open!

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