Other commitments prevented me getting to see Le Coq d’Or but at least I managed the second of the triple bills which included the final scene. First came Scheherazade in the version first performed as part of Les Saisons Russes du XXI siècle a couple of years ago. This was a much more polished performance, with terrific dancing from Julia Makhalina and Artem Yachmennikov as the leads. The excerpt from Le Coq d’Or was great fun but I didn’t really miss seeing the whole thing. Then came a gorgeous treat, a performance of Fokine’s Swan from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, originally created for Anna Pavlova. Infuriatingly, it wasn’t listed in the programme and I didn’t catch the name of the brilliant dancer.
The afternoon finished with Polovtsian Dances. This was much more enjoyable than when I saw it as part of Prince Igor earlier this year. In that case, the stage was full of scenery and singers, leaving little space for an unimaginatively choreographed version. On Sunday, the chorus stood in the boxes at the side of the auditorium, with almost no scenery, allowing the dancers wearing copies of Nicholas Roerich‘s original costumes to fill the stage with Fokine’s fabulous choreography. I’m not sure how authentic it was but the back flips by star dancer Maxim Pavlov, only added to the fun. This is the third programme I’ve seen put together by Andris Liepa to honour Diaghilev and it was easily the best, thanks largely to the incredible energy of the young company. At this rate, his next programme is going to be unmissable.
How far the ENO have come. It is less than four years ago that I saw Handel’s Radamisto at the ENO with a woman singing the castrato role and very static staging. How much better it is now that the importance of the counter tenor has been recognised. This showed up most dramatically in the Act II duet between Iestyn Davies as Bertarido and Rebecca Evans as his wife Rodelinda. His counter tenor and her soprano may have been similar in vocal range but they sounded as different as woodwind and string instruments, creating the most wonderful highlight of the opera. The staging was good too, with good acting from the six singers and one actor who somehow filled the stage and made me forget how few singers there are in most opera seria, although the direction was perhaps a little more tongue in cheek than the heacy plot deserved. Also many thanks for Christian Curnyn who I have now seen conducting four baroque operas at the Coliseum. He currently seems unsurpassably good in this area. My only minor grumble is that, having found how good it was to raise the orchestra pit for Castor and Pollux, why has it not become standard for all their baroque operas?
Quinn Kelsey was astonishing in the title role, giving a powerful performance that drew out the complexities of the character. I tend to judge a performance by the ENO by my need to look at the surtitles: in his case there was no need as every word was beautifully, clearly sung. The direction by Christopher Alden followed the same principle as in his version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – take a single set relevant to the world in which the opera was written, rather than its nominal setting, and play everything against that one background. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he used the outside of Britten’s school: half the audience booed on the first night; the other half cheered, including me. This time he used a Victorian gentleman’s club: no-one booed; no-one cheered, including me. There was plenty of polite applause but I’d rather be in a production that gets booed and cheered than one that just gets applauded. I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream twice in a week as I loved it so much. I’m not sure I’ll bother to see Rigoletto again in any production. I’m still not a fan of Italian opera, but it was fun and I am glad I have seen it this once.
With Darcy Bussell and Carlos Acosta in the audience, the company had to be good – and they were. Serenade, an early Balanchine work, was very American and reminded me Jerome Robbins’s work for West Side Story over 20 years later. It must have been quite ground breaking in its time but it was not a patch on the brilliant Symphony in Three Movements, also choreographed by Balanchine to music by Stravinsky – it was well worth attending for this alone. Between these was a new work, Plan to B, by Jorma Elo to music by von Biber. The other works were excellently accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra but this was performed to a recording, presumably due to the early instruments required. It was a virtuoso pieced with six amazing young dancers. This was followed by yet another performance of Nijinsky’s Apres Midi d’un Faun. I first saw this about 50 years ago and it still bewilders me. At its best, it has a strange power; sadly the faun in this performance lacked the sexual power the role demands. On the plus side, they used the complete Bakst backdrop and this and the beautiful music made it well worthwhile. I’d love to see programme 2 but unfortunately will not be free.