The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House
Who would have thought that researching and attending a performance of The Nutcracker at The Royal Opera House as a Christmas present for my eldest daughter would reveal the deep and lasting connections in the ballet world between UK and the Netherlands.
After a forced closure over Christmas and the New Year, the Royal Ballet’s latest production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at The Royal Opera House as seen on Wednesday January 5th was a fantastic spectacle, brushing away all Covid-induced thoughts and inviting the audience to enter Hoffman’s magical world of Drosselmeyer, Clara, the Nutcracker, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince, dancing mice and Christmas trees which grow in the night.
The wonderfully lavish set, punctuated by particularly beautiful teal velvet capes and an immense golden owl resting watchfully atop a plinth under an equally elaborate clock, set the scene and did not disappoint. The generous use of glitter as a metaphor for the magic needed to rid the Nutcracker of the wicked spell cast by the wicked Queen, helped bring the story alive for the younger members of the audience, of whom there were many.
With many changes to the cast, the performance really was a wonderful showcase for the depth of talent within both the Royal Ballet company and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. In this performance, the roles of The Sugar Plum Fairy and The Prince were danced by Mayara Magri and Ryoichi Hirano; both performed with great skill and emotion.
The choreography in this latest 2021 production by Peter Wright really is a fabulous depiction of the score, and for a ballet which is essentially a series of unrelated dances, it possessed a strong narrative and sense of drama, exquisitely enhanced by the immaculate and detailed orchestral accompaniment. There seemed a freshness to the interpretation tonight, which was enticing and even electrifying.
Isabella Gasparini, the Brazilian ballerina originally cast as Clara, shares her thoughts in a short video: The Royal Ballet on why The Nutcracker is the ultimate Christmas show. She felt that the challenge in performing her role was to allow the audience to experience the story through the eyes of a child. I believe this aspiration was achieved, with a sense of wonder at each twist and turn.
I further learnt that Akane Takada, who was originally cast in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, tried to imagine that she was dancing on top of a big cake so there was no sound as the cake was so soft. She also channelled the smell of the cake to help her imagination. Such craft from the dance studio really is a joy to behold.
It is no surprise then that dancers floated effortlessly across the stage, as light as a feather! The rapidity of steps was equalled by the nimblest of string passagework from the orchestra.
The beautiful phrasing and nuanced detail in the dynamics from both dancers and musicians under the direction of their Hong Kong-born, British conductor, Jonathan Lo, was astounding, and the orchestra must have been on such a high post-performance. Jonathan, a staff conductor at ROH is known to audiences in Manchester as the Musical Director of the Northern Ballet, and also here in the Netherlands as guest conductor of the Dutch National Ballet, alongside fellow British conductor and MD, Matthew Rowe.
A special mention should go to those dancers in the group numbers who must have been particularly affected by changes in personnel. We felt privileged to watch the sparkly, and fluttering feet of sixteen en pointe ballerinas, perfectly in unison and shimmering in their glittering tutus. And while some of the group numbers were not perfectly in unison, what an opportunity such a performance provided for some of these younger dancers to come to the fore.
The Second Act did not disappoint. For a score so frequently hacked through in regional and amateur productions, this performance allowed the audience to fall in love with the sheer beauty, lyricism, and simplicity of Tschaikovsky’s writing. Flutter tonguing from the flutes contrasted with a throbbing clarinet and bassoon in antiphonal passages, and a wonderfully rounded, controlled, and restrained brass section, always promised more. The trumpet section did have fun while accompanying the Spanish dancers!
The highlight for me was the dramatic entrance made by the two Arabian dancers who entered the stage, the female sitting high atop her male partner, in an astonishing show of raw strength and immense control. Both dancers displayed beautiful turnout, and astonishing flexibility in their backs. A subdued and restrained orchestral accompaniment, with fabulous phrasing from the strings, showcased the high level of skill and musicality flowing forth from the conductor Jonathan Lo, and combined to make this a most magical number.
The poised, polished, perfection from the Sugar Plum Fairy who displayed the most amazing balance, left us in awe. The finale, a fantastic riot of colour with all the dancers on stage, was again accompanied by a wonderfully round brass rising arpeggio to conclude.
We felt privileged to have witnessed this production and we will return.
Further reading, listening and viewing:
Originally published at https://thespidyeditor.com on January 21, 2022.