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American Ballet Theatre: Lady of the Camellias

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American Ballet Theatre

Lady of the Camellias
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Susan Morgan, Press Associate

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 7, 2010

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins

Lady of the Camellias, a ballet by John Neumeier based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils,(Company Premiere): Choreography and lighting concept by John Neumeier, Staged by Kevin Haigen and Victor Hughes, Music by Frederic Chopin, Scenery and costumes by Jürgen Rose, Lighting reconstruction by Ralf Merkel, Pianists: Koji Attwood and Soheil Nasseri.

Cast on May 25, 2010:

Julie Kent as Marguerite Gautier, Roberto Bolle as Armand Duval, Gillian Murphy as Manon Lescaut, David Hallberg as Des Grieux, Jared Matthews as Gaston Rieux, Roman Zhurbin as Monsieur Duval, Mary Mills Thomas as Nanina, Marguerite’s maid, Clinton Luckett as The Duke, Xiomara Reyes as Prudence Duvernoy, Hee Seo as Olympia, Julio Bragado-Young as Count N., Soheil Nasseri as A pianist, April Giangeruso and Luis Ribagorda as A married couple, Raymond Lukens as Auctioneer, Jake Helgenberg as His assistant, and the Company as Workers at the Auction, Manon’s Admirers, Audience and Ball Guests, Marguerite’s Admirers, Party Guests, and Marguerite’s Servants.

Cast on June 7, 2010:

Diana Vishneva as Marguerite Gautier, Marcelo Gomes as Armand Duval, Veronika Part as Manon Lescaut, Eric Tamm as Des Grieux, Sascha Radetsky as Gaston Rieux, Vitali Krauchenka as Monsieur Duval, Nicola Curry as Nanina, Marguerite’s maid, Isaac Stappas as The Duke, Simone Messmer as Prudence Duvernoy, Maria Riccetto as Olympia, Carlos Lopez as Count N., Soheil Nasseri as A pianist, Courtney Lavine and Alexei Agoudine as A married couple, Wes Chapman as Auctioneer, Jake Helgenberg as His assistant, and the Company as Workers at the Auction, Manon’s Admirers, Audience and Ball Guests, Marguerite’s Admirers, Party Guests, and Marguerite’s Servants.

“Lady of the Camellias” was presented by the Stuttgart Ballet at the Weurttemberg Staatstheatre, Stuttgart, Germany in November 1978. Its scene is an auction, where Marguerite Gautier’s furnishings are being sold, after her death. She was a wealthy courtesan. Nanina, her servant, arrives with a diary, and Monsieur Duval and his son Armand are there as well. Armand collapses in grief. Armand tells his story, which is this ballet. There’s a ballet within a ballet, an excerpt of” Manon Lescaut”, and Marguerite Gautier watches with horror at Manon's casual infidelity. Armand Duval is introduced to Marguerite by Gaston Rieux, but Armand imagines his fate unfolding like that of Des Grieux.

Marguerite invites Armand to her apartment, with his friend, Gaston, the courtesan Prudence, and Prudence’s escort, Count N. Marguerite is aware that she’s terminally ill, has a coughing attack, but decides to have an affair with Armand and keep it a secret, in order to comfort herself with luxury. As Marguerite is a busy courtesan, Armand is always waiting and follows her to the country, where she was to meet the Duke. Marguerite continues to party in the country, until Armand and the Duke confront each other. Monsieur Duval visits Marguerite and begs her to leave his son, and because of her love, she agrees. Armand waits for Marguerite, but Nanina brings him a letter that Marguerite went back to Paris, where Armand arrives to see her with the Duke.

Later, in Paris, Marguerite encounters Armand, who vengefully seduces Marguerite’s friend, Olympia. When Marguerite finally visits Armand, she begs him to end his affair with Olympia, which he does, but Marguerite, in a fever, returns again to her courtesan lifestyle. Now she leaves Armand for the second time. Armand sees Marguerite at a gala ball and publicly tosses cash at her. Marguerite collapses. Back at the auction, present time, Armand imagines joining Marguerite at the theatre, to see “Manon Lescaut”, which has overlapping themes. In the dream, Marguerite leaves the theatre with the same ballet characters, and the two couples, from “Lady of the Camellias” and “Manon Lescaut” leave together, dancing in a fever. Marguerite writes in her diary one last time, and gives it to Nanina for Armand. She dies alone, and Armand closes the diary. (ABT Program Notes)

The new addition to Ballet Theatre repertory, John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias, must be seen at least twice; once for the complex ballet within a ballet plot, synopsized above, and once for the radiant, rapturous choreography, sets, costumes, and live onstage and offstage piano renditions of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21, Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, Préludes, Waltzes, Fantasie, Grande Polonaise Brillante, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, and additional Chopin masterpieces. Soheil Nasseri, onstage (who has been reviewed in concert in this magazine), and Koji Attwood, offstage, perform these works with magnificent fervor and flourish. Ormsby Wilkins conducted these Chopin gems radiantly, with romantic intent to the multiple dancer/actors onstage. I attended two performances and saw two casts, in addition to the Spring Gala preview of the Act III Pas de Deux, when Marguerite visits Armand, arriving in a dramatic hooded cloak.

At the Company Premiere of this 1978 John Neumeier work, originally premiered by the Stuttgart Ballet, Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle reprised their May 17 Gala partnership. On June 7, I saw Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes as Marguerite and Armand, a decidedly different duo. Julie Kent seemed most internalized in the lead role, more understated, more mature. She was courtesan, lover, and a conscience-driven woman, who followed Armand’s father’s impassioned request to abandon her longtime lover, for the sake of his stability and social standing. Diana Vishneva, au contraire, was more driven, more abandoned, more dependent on psychical sparks than firm convictions. Lady of the Camellias is intrinsically complex, with the Manon Lescaut plot interwoven with the Dumas fils literary theme, two courtesans in conflict.

Roberto Bolle, as Armand Duval, is an engaging figure to gaze upon, Italian, possessed, the quintessential premier danseur. His Armand was persuasive, passionate, panting. When he remains side stage, by the curtain, thoughtfully torn, in reverie and remorse, he competes with any action onstage. Marcelo Gomes, as Armand to Ms. Vishneva’s Marguerite, is feverish, fretting, foolhardy. These were decidedly different performances, and to complicate matters, the ballet within the ballet performances of Manon and Des Grieux, with Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg on May 25 and Veronica Part and Eric Tamm in the roles on June 7, contrasted deeply as well. Ms. Murphy and Mr. Hallberg truly created a second ballet to absorb, with stature and theatricality, chemistry and pathos. Ms. Part and Mr. Tamm (who’s in the Corps) were, instead, a work in progress, a duo as background entertainment. In the roles of the scorned Duke, Clinton Luckett was clearly more cultivated and seasoned, compared to Isaac Stappas’ more impetuous and jealous gestures.

This ballet as a whole is inherently complex, with minor characters in sub-plots and intrigues, like Olympia, whom Armand seduces to revenge Marguerite, after one of her disappearances, not realizing his father has chased her away. His desire for the courtesans of France overwhelmed his need for financial and family concerns. Hee Seo on May 25 was more seductive and dramatic as Olympia than was Maria Riccetto on June 7, but both dancers carried the role with edge. Roman Zhurbin and Vitali Krauchenka, as M. Duval, brought drama and gravity to the stage. Julio Bragado-Young and Carlos Lopez were both captivating as Count N., another minor character in this ballet replete with sub-plots. Raymond Lukens and Wes Chapman, two Ballet Theatre faculty icons, took the role of Auctioneer of Marguerite’s effects, in the “present” scenarios, as her diary unfolds into two ballets. Xiomara Reyes and Simone Messmer were respectively Prudence Duvernoy, a courtesan friend of Marguerite, and both dancers caught my eye. As Gaston Rieux, Jared Matthews and Sascha Radetsky were equally effective.

The Chopin orchestral and piano score was vividly intrinsic to the unfolding passion onstage. As Marguerite and Armand (the title of yet another ballet by Frederic Ashton about the Dumas fils novel) dash about, with Armand’s frenzied lifts of Marguerite, her spins against his torso, her spinning lifts above Armand’s head, and her consumptive attacks, the music soars and sears. The dual conflicts of the present-based lovers (Marguerite and Armand) and the ballet characters they watch and identify with (Manon and Des Grieux) are meshed, with shifting partnering, at one point, a melding of reality and fantasy, a combined duo-century dream ballet, much like American in Paris, only in this case we are live, and the ballets merge in real time. I have taped the 1936 Greta Garbo film, also based on the Dumas fils novel, and intend to experience yet one more take on this torturous tale.

American Ballet Theatre has another hit in its vast repertory, John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias, and I look forward to viewing this again next season. This is a thoughtful, complicated ballet, with multiple, interacting characters, in real and imagined scenarios, and the choreography, on its own, is extraordinarily transporting. In fact, Lady of the Camellias could easily become a staple in the repertory for years to come. Kudos to both casts reviewed above, and kudos to the pianists and Ormsby Wilkins, who conducted on both nights. Kudos to John Neumeier, and kudos to Alexandre Dumas fils.

Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle
in John Neumeier's "Lady of the Camellias"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle
in John Neumeier's "Lady of the Camellias"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Marcelo Gomes and Diana Vishneva
in John Neumeier's
"Lady of the Camellias"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Marcelo Gomes and Diana Vishneva
in John Neumeier's
"Lady of the Camellias"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Marcelo Gomes and Diana Vishneva
in John Neumeier's
"Lady of the Camellias"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at