Has all the magic, enchantment, festive charm and fun one expects from 'The Nutcracker'
'The Nutcracker' is one of my all time favourite ballets, stories and pieces of classical music, the story has such a timeless charm, that still entertains and enchants, and Tchaikovsky's score contains some of his best-known music for good reason.
Although most productions of 'The Nutcracker' available on DVD/video are good to outstanding, that is not to say that all the productions available are good (am not that biased to say that there isn't a bad, or shall we say disappointing, production of 'The Nutcracker' in existence, there is although the ballet still remains wonderful). The Maurice Bejart version is self-indulgent and strange, the 2008 Mariinsky one is ugly and incoherent and not even the musical values save it and the 2012 Mariinsky production despite capable dancing and good musical values lacks joy and has a far too cold older Masha.
Saw this production in 2016 as part of the Royal Opera/Ballet Live Cinema transmissions, and to this day it is one of the highlights of not just the 2016-2017 Season but of all the transmissions. This is coming from a huge opera and ballet fan who watches any opera and ballet production when they are broadcast in the cinema 20 minutes away from my home, primarily from the Royal Opera/Ballet and the Met, without fail.
A revival of Peter Wright's production, one expects any production of 'The Nutcracker' to be fun, magical and enchanting with a festive charm, wonderful dancing and choreography and appealing at least production values. This production has all of those. It remains true to the spirit of the ballet while adding fresh touches of its own that actually enhance the drama and give it nuance, it's actually fresher than the production it's revived from from personal opinion. Particularly good was Mrs Stahlbaum's snubbing of the Dancing Mistress and Clara's treatment of the Mouse King in the aftermath of the battle, touches that could have been unintentionally funny in the wrong hands, or lesser hands, but really gives the production a freshness that was necessary.
Visually, it's sumptuous and colourful while pleasingly simple. The stateliness of the opening scene, the dark atmosphere of the scene with the mice and the enchanting colour of Act 2 are very well evoked.
Choreographically, there are no complaints and the same can be said for Wright's knack for drama, the intimacy and focus of Act 1, which has more clarity than many productions seen of 'The Nutcracker', and the always magical and never episodic Act 2 were much appreciated. The opening scene is wonderfully festive without being too stately, the mice scene is actually clear dramatically and frightening (not goofy or incoherent) with a genuinely suspenseful entrance for the Mouse King. The production also has one of the most enchanting renditions of the transformation scene ever and the snowflakes are wonderfully delicate.
Even better is Act 2, the rousing Russian and sensual Arabian dance and very sweet flower Waltz are standouts are even more the absolutely exquisite Pas De Deux. Loved the expanded involvement of Clara and Hans-Peter in Act 2, another fresh touch that came off splendidly. The only slight disappointment is the slightly bland and lacking in humour Chinese Dance, though trying to make it less caricature-like was a good move.
Musically, this 'Nutcracker' is very strong. The orchestral playing sounded powerful and nuanced, their tone beautiful and strikingly rich in colour, and stylistically it's crisp and energised with smooth, elegant lines when needed. The chorus in Dance of the Snowflakes sounded positively angelic, making for an enchanting finish to Act 1. A solid conducting job from Boris Gruzin as well.
Francesca Hayward is as much a dream as one can possibly get as Clara, in dancing and dramatically, likewise with a truly enchanting Lauren Cuthbertson (no coldness or over-thinking here), and Alexander Campbell is a dashing and expressive partner who is wonderfully protective of her. Gary Avis is wonderfully mysterious as Drosselmeyer and Christina Arestis has the right amount of dignity. It was lovely to have a menacing Mouse King and not a potentially goofy one.
Overall, an absolute joy and perfect for Christmas, will really put you in a festive period. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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