Last Updated on December 12, 2020 by Fiona Maclean
Revival of Liam Scarlett’s Swan Lake at The Royal Opera House.
*Stop Press – The Royal Opera House is currently closed due to Covid19*
Liam Scarlett’s critically acclaimed 2018 production of Swan Lake has returned to the Royal Opera House for its first revival. The fairytale ballet has its roots in German and Russian folklore and with its melodic Tchaikovsky score and glorious choreography, Swan Lake has become one of the mainstays of the classical ballet canon and the best known of all ballets.
Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez reprise their 2018 opening night triumph playing the doomed lovers Prince Siegfried and Princess Odette. Nuñez is a fragile Odette bringing out the emotion in her characterisation with gentle flutterings and softness of line and movement. She and Muntagirov have real chemistry and whilst he plays the Prince with the requisite nobility, there is also a sense of vulnerability that feels contemporary.
The prologue sees Odette transformed into a swan by the predatory sorcerer von Rothbart, a Rasputin-like figure who is also an advisor to Siegfried’s mother the queen. Played by Bennet Gartside as a demonic character straight out of a German expressionist film, von Rothbart is the puppet-master pulling all the strings. The opening takes place in front of designer John Macfarlane’s swirling vortex of a painted backdrop, the first of a series of stunning sets that channel the opera’s 19th-century heritage; but we are soon sucked into the drama with Act 1 taking place by the palace gates with the young men and women of the court expressing their refinement and nobility in the opening waltz.
The story is simple and charming. Prince Siegfried is under pressure from his mother to marry and she plans to hold a ball to help him find his match. When a flock of swans flies overhead Siegfried goes out hunting.
Separated from his hunting party, the prince arrives at a lake where he sees the swans and watches as one transforms into a beautiful woman, Odette. She explains to the prince that she and her fellow swans have been put under a spell by von Rothbart, a spell which can only be lifted if someone who has never loved before promises to love her forever. Muntagirov and Nuñez establish their passion in a series of restrained Pas de Deux that are beautifully executed.
Siegfried and Odette fall in love; but at the ball on the next evening, framed by Macfarlane’s gloriously opulent set, the Prince is presented with a series of predatory princesses dressed in blinged-up tutus all metaphorically ‘shaking their tail-feathers’ at him with a series of delightful arabesques.
Siegfried and Odette fall in love but at the ball, on the next evening, the Prince comes under the spell of Odile, Rothbart’s daughter, who has been transformed to resemble Odette. Their series of solos and duets displayed dancing of the highest order and received a rapturous reception from the crowd with Muntagirov’s lifts being particularly impressive.
In Act 4 Siegfried realises that he has been duped and returns to Odette. In one of the great iconic ballet scenes, atmospherically lit by lighting designer David Finn, we see the swans shimmering on the lake leading to the final and heartbreaking Pas de Deux when Siegfried and Odette decide to drown together, a decision which breaks von Rothbart’s spell and frees the swans.
This production has a genuine sensitivity with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, conducted by Koen Kessels, supporting rather than overwhelming the drama. If you are new to ballet then Swan Lake is a wonderful introduction with a mellifluous and accessible score and a story that could melt any heart.
Royal Opera House
Bow Street, London, WC2E 9DD
5 March–16 May 2020
The performance lasts about 3 hours, including two intervals
Also showing at the Royal Opera House is a new production of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio – find out more.
Looking for somewhere to eat? We love the pre-theatre menu at Volta do Mar, just across the road in Covent Garden