Royal Ballet - The Firebird - Agon - Les Noces - Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

On 8 May 2001, I saw a triple-bill at the ROH: The Firebird, Agon and Les Noces, all with music by Stravinsky, conducted by John Carewe.

The Firebird tells the story of a Firebird appearing in the enchanted garden of the Immortal Kostchei pursued by Ivan Isarevich. The bird tries to pluck golden apples from the magic tree, but Ivan seizes her and will not release her until she gives him one of her feathers as a pledge of help should he ever need it. She flies off. Darkness dissolves and Ivan finds himself at the gate of an old castle. Twelve maidens emerge, led by a beautiful Tsarevna, who tells him that this is the castle of the Immortal Kostchei, a magician who waylays passing travellers by casting spells on them. After exchanging tender glances with Ivan, Tsarevna leads her companions in a lively dance. She and Ivan kiss. But it is now dawn and the maidens must return to the castle. In spite of Tsarevna's warning Ivan decides to follow them. As soon as he opens the gates, bells ring out and a crowd of weird figures rush from the castle, followed by Kostchei, before whom they prostrate themselves. Kostchei advances on Ivan and tries to turn him to stone but Ivan waves the Firebird's feather in his face, invoking her aid. She reappears and forces the crowd to dance until they fall exhausted to the ground. While they are all sleeping Ivan, on her instruction, steals a great egg that contains Kostchei's soul. He throws it to the ground, Kostchei dies and his spell is broken. The captives are restored to human form. Tsarevna and Ivan are married and everyone joins in a thanksgiving.

Agon is a Balanchine ballet covering many ballet groupings. Part I features a Pas de quatre, Double Pas de quatre and Triple Pas de quatre. Part II includes a Sarabande, Gaillard (both court dances) finishing with a jazzy Coda. Then follows Bransle (from the French "a brawl"). Simple, Bransle Gay and Bransle Double finishing with a Pas de Deux, its beautiful adagio, leading into Part III and its dances for Duos and Trios finishing with Coda. Stravinsky called it a "Concerto for the dance".

Les Noces (The Wedding) has both words and music by Stravinsky. Choreography is by Bronislava Nijinska and scenery and costumes were by Natalia Goncharova. Much of the music is based on Russian popular songs. Stravinsky said, "Les Noces is a suite of typical wedding episodes told through quotations of typical talk. The latter is always ritualistic. It is also a product of the Russian church.The ballet suite consisted of: Village Wedding Rites First Tableau: Consecration of the Bride Second Tableau: Consecration of the Bridegroom Third Tableau: Departure of the Bride. Forth Tableau: The Wedding Feast (The Bride was Elizabeth McGorian; the Bridegroom was David Pickering.) Invocations to the Virgin and saints are heard throughout the work. "Among the latter, the names of Cosmas and Damian occur more often than any others. They were recognised as wedding saints in Russia and they were popularly worshipped as a fertility cult. The Russian folk wedding ritual of many contrasting episodes including match-making, inspection of the groom's household, unplaiting of the bride's hair symbolising her passage from childhood to maturity and the blessings of both sets of parents.


Verinha Ottoni



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