Amazingly, the great ballerina Maya Plisetskaya was 51 when this gala production was recorded by the Bolshoi company in Moscow's Kremlin Palace. The production was mounted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ballet's première, and so one significant advantage this has over most other available DVD releases is that its musical edition is pure Tchaikovsky, without including the interpolations by Drigo customarily found in many other sets (such as the finely danced 1980's Kirov version with Makhalina). It's well played and conducted, with sensibly musical tempi (once again unlike that Kirov version) and includes the Russian dance in Act 3 as well as many more repeats than is usual in stage productions of the ballet.
First, I have to report that there are significant downsides to both production and picture quality. The tatty sets and basic staging around Petipa and Ivanov's classic choreography are (perhaps mercifully!) so poorly lit that the whole ballet seems to be taking place in stygian gloom, except for the spotlights on the principal dancers. The video quality is slightly fuzzy, colour definition is poor, and there are some bald edits where fragments of the performance seem to have gone missing.
Second, let me suggest that none of this matters one jot, when at the heart of the matter we have the privilege of witnessing a searing performance from one of the world's great dancers. If her sheer athleticism isn't what it had been a quarter of a century earlier, Plisetskaya more than compensates through depth and subtlety in the role of the swan-princess Odette. The way she suggests the physical discomfort of swan-into-woman, though angular hand movements, gauky and tentative steps, slightly stiff "wing-shoulders" and the rest, is mesmerising and very moving.
The contrast between this and the simulated sentiment of her "black swan" Odile is subtle but telling. A particularly opaque review of this DVD suggested how disappointing it was that Plisetskaya could no longer manage the traditional "32 fouettes" at the climax of the "Black Swan Pas de Deux". Alas, that reviewer was evidently oblivious to the fact that she was not dancing to the Drigo score which supports such Olympian gymnastics, but to Tchaikovsky's original music which has no space for said pyrotechnics! This isn't gymnastics, but dance drama of the highest order.
The supporting cast is led by the young Bogatirev - supple, strong and conveying noble innocence throughout - and features strong performers in all the supporting roles (not least Vladimir Abrosimov's exhilarating Jester). The audience displays overwhelming enthusiasm, with curtain calls many and long. Quite right too. This is an unforgettably powerful performance of a very full version of the ballet. Video warts and all, it still deserves the full five stars.