The Royal Ballet performs The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House
Seeing a live performance of The Nutcracker is a favourite Christmas treat for me. But, it is one which I’ve scarcely dared hope will happen when our theatres have been mothballed for months, dancers have hung up their shoes and musicians tucked up their instruments for a long hibernation. This year though, the magic of the Nutcracker has been reworked into a COVID safe restaging which all but sold out the moment tickets went on sale, though you might be lucky and find a return for one of the 17 performances between 11th December and 3rd January 2021. Based on Peter Wright’s two-act production, the restaging has been carefully designed and while it includes much of the original production, there’s a new battle scene between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King choreographed by Will Tuckett.
We went along to the second performance today – a Saturday matinee that was magical for sentimental adults like me as much because of the faces of an audience of smaller, enthusiastic ballet fans captivated by this special Christmas moment. I’ve seen countless Nutcrackers – dating back to when I was just 9 years old and went along with my mother to the Theatre Royal in Norwich. Last year, I enjoyed the Birmingham Royal Ballet production at the Royal Albert Hall. I have to confess to a little trepidation about this ‘reworked’ production at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. And I’m delighted that none of my concerns were realised. While there may have been fewer snowflakes on stage at any time, the only real impact for me was a slight imbalance from the orchestra where the brass section seemed to dominate. That may have been a result of where I was sitting but I rather suspect it was down to a socially distance, masked band with rather fewer string players than normal.
The story itself is captivating. Drosselmeyer, a magician and creator of mechanical toys and clocks, was once employed in a royal palace where he invented a trap that killed off half the mouse population. In revenge, the Queen of the Mice cast a spell over Drosselmeyer’s nephew, Hans-Peter, transforming him into the Nutcracker. To break the spell, the Nutcracker would have to defeat the Mouse King and find love, despite his strange appearance. Drosselmeyer gives the Nutcracker to Clara the young daughter of his friends, the Stahlbaums, in the hopes that with the help of a little magic and fantasy, she can guide him to freedom. Will Tuckett’s new fight scene between the mice and the toy soldiers ends when Clara hits the Mouse King on the head with her shoe, saving the Nutcracker’s life.
The pair journey through the Land of Snow, to the Sugar Garden in the Kingdom of Sweets where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy. The ensuing entertainment with routines that include a Chinese dance, the Dance of the Mirlitons and a thrilling Russian Dance, culminates in the stunning pas de deux by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince.
As morning approaches Clara, the Nutcracker and Drosselmeyer return to reality. Clara, wandering in the street, bumps into a handsome and strangely familiar young man who gives her his cloak to keep her warm. And, back in his workshop, Drosselmeyer waits. His nephew returns and the spell has been broken.
Our Clara was danced by Anna Rose O’Sullivan who first performed the role on stage at the Royal Opera House in 2015, a charming, delicate and tender performance that paired well with James Hay as the Nutcracker/Hans-Peter. Gary Avis as Drosselmeyer was sublime and captivating. It’s a role he has made his own and I for one was totally enchanted. Laura Morera and Federico Morelli were beautifully matched as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. Morelli stood out for me, with an intensity and precision that made his performance captivating. But, as is true of most of the Royal Ballet productions I’ve seen, there’s such consistency of perfection that it’s hard to single out dancers – from the immaculate Corps through to the stunning principal dancers.
The restaging includes many of the much-loved elements from the original 1984 performance – the magical growing Christmas tree, the beautiful and enchanting dance of the snowflakes and more. Design by Julia Trevelyan Oman is charming, Christmas card material with plenty of glitter and a sprinkling of fairy dust.
To make this production happen, The Royal Ballet has created dancer bubbles. Whether from that enforced intimacy or because of the poignant situation facing The Arts in the UK at the moment, there was a magnetic atmosphere throughout this very special performance. The Nutcracker runs until Sunday 3rd January 2021 with 17 performances mostly starting at 2 pm in the afternoon.
Royal Opera House
Bow Street, London, WC2E 9DD
Finally. should you be unable to make it to Covent Garden, this production will be streamed on 22 December at 7 pm on the ROH platform.
The stream will be available until 21 January