It's easy to see why The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky's perennially popular ballet first performed in 1892, has such enduring appeal. As Patrice Bart's 1999 production shows, it is always beautiful to look at, lending itself to the Christmas season where it has a permanent place in the schedules of the major dance companies. And Hoffmann's tale of the troubled child who must go on a wonderful (and occasionally terrifying) journey of discovery has a universal and timeless appeal.
Bart's production for the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin builds on Petipa's original choreography and develops the context of the child Marie's (Nadja Saidakova) anxiety into a strong narrative. The godfather Drosselmeyer (Oliver Matz) is initially a sinister figure, forcing her to confront past events (the familiar mouse-soldier battle music is used instead as a prologue in which Marie's mother is abducted by Russian revolutionaries) before leading her into the glittering land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Here, all expectations are exceeded. The familiarity of Tchaikovsky's intricately woven themes works in total harmony with sumptuous production values. The dancing is sublime. As the Prince, Vladimir Malakhov evokes the spirit of a young Nureyev. His pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy should challenge even the most cynical tear ducts. Sit back, share the frisson of anticipation as Daniel Barenboim enters the conductor's box, and let the whole experience engulf you.
There are no DVD extras. In addition to the 16:9 picture format, which enhances the authentic theatrical atmosphere, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound helps make this Nutcracker an aural feast. Under Barenboim's masterful control, the orchestra draws you into the heart of the music. Booklet notes provide historical background as well as performer biographies, but a more complete cast list would have been useful. --Piers Ford, Amazon.co.uk
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