Fans of Romantic masterpiece and audience favourite Giselle usually have a choice production against which they measure all others. Over here one of our favorites is Sir Peter Wright’s critically acclaimed staging, which returns to Covent Garden early 2011. We were reminded of its virtues and the respect Sir Peter shows for his source material this summer when the Mikhailovsky and the Bolshoi brought their Russian Giselles to London. Despite very touching, wonderful performances by Irina Perren and Natalia Osipova in the title role, we missed some of the ballet’s key elements:
In Russian productions Berthe’s pivotal mime scene is usually absent, meaning the villagers (whose clothes and gauzy light dresses are, by the way, too fancy to be credible) do not hear this important premonition: that her daughter Giselle’s obsession with dancing will lead to disaster; that Giselle will end up as a man-hating Wili. The way events are crammed and cut into Act 1 also mean harvest celebrations and loud merry-making take place by Giselle’s cottage while the nobles are having a snooze inside. There is also the major difference that Giselle – despite going mad – tends to die of a broken heart rather than commit suicide.
Giselle librettist Théophile Gautier supported the idea of the peasant girl dying from a wound inflicted by Albrecht’s sword and the original Coralli/Perrot version was developed accordingly. But in Russia suicide was thought problematic, so Petipa settled for death caused by a weak heart. This results in major inconsistencies in Act 2 as Giselle’s tomb lies in unconsecrated ground deep in the forest whereas a natural death would have meant a cemetery burial.
But perhaps the biggest issue we had with the ballet this summer was the way both the Mikhailovsky and Bolshoi characterise their Myrthas, who tended to behave gracefully like Sylphs rather than as one of balletsphere’s most menacing villains. All this Giselle nitpicking inspired us to create an approval Matrix à la NY Mag (or à la Wired). We asked our Tweeps (Twitter friends) for some of their favorite and least favorite aspects of Giselle and have included answers into the chart below:
We want to hear about your ideal Giselle, so use the comment form below and tell us what you like/don’t like in this ballet.
With thanks to everyone who sent in suggestions & special thanks to @TightsAndTiaras @IanWhalen1387 @sarahp119 @annakardar @Bennet76 @VirnaSophia @bellafigural @ManInSeatD26 @webcowgirl @MarijnRademaker @catchip @AkikoTYO @Fleegull