BWW Review: SWAN LAKE, Royal Opera House
Enough words have been given to the controversy surrounding this run of Liam Scarlett's Swan Lake, its first revival since a largely triumphant premiere in 2018. I don't wish to dwell further here, and instead want to focus on what was one of the most memorable nights at the theatre in quite some time thanks to some virtuoso central performances, a faultless corps de ballet, and the transporting set and costumes of John MacFarlane.
There is no finer spectacle in classical ballet right now than this opulent and lavish production of Swan Lake. The entire run is (all but) sold out - and rightly so. Breathtaking designs, luxurious casting and Tchaikovsky's ravishing score come together with scintillating results.
Having missed Marianela Nunez and Vadim Muntagirov on opening night two years ago, I was tense with anticipation to see if they lived up to the hype - and to the perfection of the performance televised shortly after the premiere. It seems silly to suggest there was even a doubt as the pair showboated their way through a flawless opening night.
The BLACK SWAN pas de deux from Act III felt like a gala offering, so swaggering and rich in confidence was Nunez's vindictive, borderline brattish Odile. Her glorious manipulation of Siegfried was a masterclass. One particular unsupported balance en pointe Nunez held for far longer than necessary, so much was she enjoying herself.
As for Muntagirov, the care in his storytelling and mime has increased since the last run, his torment and confusion more evident and heartfelt. In the lakeside scene, he is a gentle and attentive partner to the purity of Nunez's Odette. Later, he demonstrates easy agility and control that frankly defies belief in the doubles and triples of jumps and leaps that are landed on one foot without a second thought before some smooth pirouettes.
Chemistry is a personal thing, and it's not something that is particularly abundant in this partnership, but it matters not. They have a bond, an indefinable connection of two stars who bring out the very best in each other that translates to a compelling watch.
The flow of the lengthy Act I and II that melts from one scene to another is a further great strength of this production - Macfarlane's fresh, luscious green landscape for Siegfried's party transitioning to the glistening moonlit lake.
No need for a curtain down or clunky set changes here, and no disruption to the heady momentum, initiated wonderfully by from a confident Marcelino Sambé, Fumi Kaneko and Mayara Magri (incidentally, all of whom debut in the lead roles this run) in the pad de trois. Kaneko's natural delicacy and elegance combined with luxurious developpés and extensions are a joy. Magri is similarly precise, while Sambé has license in the role of Siegfried's best buddy, Benno, to tear around the stage as he does so expertly.
The white act that follows is energy-sapping work for the diligent corp de ballet, who are well rehearsed forming neat formations but still demonstrating natural musicality in the iconic scenes so familiar to audiences.
Following a majestic Act III - the jewel in the crown here, with the grandeur of the regal costumes, sweeping staircase, golden pillars and of course that powerhouse pas de deux - choreographically, many find Act IV the weak link of Scarlett's interpretation. A lot is packed into the dying seconds, but there are wonderful moments to showcase the corps de ballet in dazzling form in their beautifully sculpted tutus. They are ably led with a fervent energy by Claire Calvert and Beatriz Stix-Brunell.
Scarlett's production is one to truly cherish, and should be treasured in the Opera House repertoire for many years to come. Swan Lakes are deeply personal to ballet fans, but audiences lucky enough to catch this one will surely say "I was there" for years to come.
Swan Lake runs at the Royal Opera House until 16 May
Image: Bill Cooper