This latest issue in the series of HD recordings from the Bolshoi Ballet was made in 2011 and brings their version of one of the most staple Romantic period ballets to our screens. In this case the choreography is by Grigorovich who has also created a memorable Spartacus and Nutcracker. The Bolshoi Ballet has always been renowned for their wonderful dancing, both solo and corps de ballet, so it is a pleasure to report that their return to recordings after an absence due to refurbishment has not resulted in any loss of their previous high standards.
The setting is therefore completely traditional as one would expect and the stage backdrop and flats are of the previous high quality that one would also expect of this company. In Act 1 the backdrop is particularly beautifully painted and the chosen autumnal colours are picked up in the very lovely dresses and peasant clothing of the female and male members of the corps de ballet. The aristocratic court is appropriately luxurious and stylish and both the gamekeeper and Albrecht wear totally believable outfits in both acts. Giselle is delicate and waif-like as befits the story. Act 2 is appropriately devoid of light colours other than the traditional shimmering dresses of the Wilis and the mood is generally sombre throughout.
Svetlana Lunkina makes a good Giselle and dances with skill and delicacy. Albrecht (Dmitry Gudanov) dances and acts his part with meaning in Act 1 and provides good support when required in Act 2. The unfortunate gamekeeper, Hans (Vitaly Biktimirov), equally acts and dances his role well and is summarily despatched by a very unforgiving Queen on the Wilis (Maria Allash) in Act 2. The Wilis rather steal the show in their famously renowned `danse des Wilis, which is performed with precision and grace.
The whole production is filmed satisfyingly with an attractive blend of close and panoramic views, all of which benefit from the crispness of HD cameras. The sound is clear and full enabling all the orchestral detail to tell. It is presented in DTS-HD and stereo, my personal preferred option being for the DTS choice.
This is a very good version as one would expect and comes into direct competition with the equally excellent version with the Royal Ballet on Opus Arte. Choice between the two could easily be made on the basis of personal preferences as regards individual artistes or ballet companies. In that regard I personally have a slight preference for Royal Ballet version as I find Alina Cojocaru as Giselle and Marianela Nunez as the Queen of the Wilis to be marginally more attractive as characterisations but there will be many who take the opposite view and prefer the Bolshoi version for similar reasons.
Final choice therefore has to be very much a matter of personal taste with this ballet as otherwise both issues are very evenly matched. For that reason I feel that it is only fair to suggest the same 5 star grade for this performance that I gave to the other. In terms of this review please bear in mind that many purchasers often have strongly held personal preferences for particular artists/ ballet companies which, in these circumstances, must be beyond the scope of this review which can only be a general guide rather than a finite recommendation.
In summary therefore, collectors interested in adding this ballet to their library of discs could choose either this Bolshoi version or the Royal Ballet version and be well satisfied with either as an 'only' choice or as part of a multiple version collection. Both offer grounds for serious consideration without a serious risk of disappointment.
Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:
An excellent Review, Ian! I had it on my Wish List, and your Review tipped the Scales in its favour!! Thank you. p.s. YOU are providing a Valued Service for True Afficionados of Music, Ballet and Opera on Blu-Ray, with your Interesting and Informative Reviews: I Rest My Case!! (see below)
This is the Grigorovich version, and it differs from western productions of this ballet in many ways - most obvious is the reduction of pantomime (Berthe's narration is missing) and the fact that the Peasant pas de deux is danced after Giselle's variation. The stage design is appropriately autumnal, with evocative lighting that reminds you of late afternoon sunshine. I liked how the skirts of the corps women seem to anticipate those of the Wilis in the second act. The courtier's entrance is quite elaborate and maybe also longer than in other versions. Svetlana Lunkina as Giselle is not as sweet as Alina Cojocaru on the Royal Ballet's DVD, she comes across as more of a teenager and in her big first act solo she looks convincingly excited as she finds herself suddenly at the centre of attention in front of so many people. Her mad scene is very internalised and almost like she is sleepwalking: at one point she starts to dance and then stops like an automaton when the music breaks off. Dmitri Gudanov as Albrecht is a danseur noble, elegant and rather gentle, not a cynical character who just wanted to seduce Giselle and was never going to be serious. Both dancers here are lyrical and not showy virtuoso types, they are also dramatically reticent, but their acting has some beautiful moments: when Albrecht's true identity is revealed, he acknowledges the situation with a single slow gesture and when Giselle runs to him he can't look at her. In the second act Svetlana Lunkina comes across as rather more like a Wili than a woman, she does not relate that much to Albrecht as Alina Cojocaru does on the RB DVD. I thought the corps de ballet dancers where excellent but could have performed the scene with "Hans" (Hilarion) with a bit more energy, it looked rather studied and calculated. The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra is of course very good and the conductor, Pavel Klinichev, seems to favour comparatively fast tempi that sound almost matter-of-factly in the first act - there is not much rubato. All in all I liked the Royal Ballet's "Giselle" and also the recent DVD by the Dutch National Ballet a bit better. The Bolshoi's production is well danced (I really liked Chinara Alizade in the Peasant pas de deux), but you can see that all those dancers have probably known this production since they were children, and sometimes I had the impression that I was watching a ceremony.
Some reviewers compare the Giselle danced by Svertlana Lunkina to other ballerinas'. I personally am only interested in comparing her 2011 outing here with her debut in 1998 when she was barely 18 years old, with the great Nicolai Tsiskardize dancing the role of Albrecht. Admiteedly, Lunkina is technically perfect here, even more so than when she was in 1998. But she had the added bonus of being young (18) and very delicate looking back then, and the Duke Albrecht of Tsiskaridze was such a perfect portrayal that Dmitry Gudanov here, howwever technically proficient, cannot compare. The cast in that 1998 performance had Maria Alexandrova as the queen of Willis, and that one too was more convincing, though Maria Allash here is, again, technically perfect. The joy and pathos of this work was brought out vividly in the 1998 version, available on Youtube, but if you vie for good pictorial quality, this one is it, and the cast is very solid (Gudanov, while may not the best fit for the flirtatious Albrecht, is a tremendously capable dancer). And we are given this rather LATE chance to watch the great portryala of Lunkina, which is the major reason for the purchase, really. Lunkina is not as famous as her namesake Svetlana Zhakarova overseas, but I really find that she has more soul in her dancing than the great Zahkarova at most points. Her Giselle mad scene is splashingly pulled off, bringing out all the vehemence, the disappointment and pathos of the dying girl. Admiteedly, her later portrayal of this scene in this version has more dramatic effect than her debut's. The great Act 2 saw less dramatic conviction than the 1998 version, though once again, Lunkina is virtually perfect in each and every single move. Gudanov puts his great technical prowess to good use in this Act, but ultimately, I personally am more convinced by NT's Albrech. Still, Lunkina remains 'the' Giselle to me, being the most delicate, soulful, light and heart pulling Giselle.
Giselle is my favourite ballet of all time, and it was with great excitement that I purchased this DVD. What an incredible disappointment. The quality of the image is appalling - constant changes to colour, to light etc. Can anyone recommend a DVD of Giselle that is not a live performance?