Bernstein Centenary Yugen / Corybantic Games/ The Age of Anxiety
Leonard Bernstein was one of the first classical composers in America to achieve both popular and critical acclaim. He was eclectic in his sources – drawing on jazz and modernism, the traditions of Jewish music and the Broadway musical – and many of Bernstein’s scores are remarkably well suited to dance. He was particularly associated with Jerome Robbins, their credits together including Fancy Free and West Side Story. To celebrate the centenary year of the composer’s birth, The Royal Ballet has united all three of its associate choreographers to celebrate the dynamic range and danceability of Bernstein’s music.
The programme includes two world premieres by Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor and Artistic Associate Christopher Wheeldon, marking each artist’s first foray into Bernstein. At the heart of the programme is the first revival of Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett’s The Age of Anxiety, created in 2014 to Bernstein’s soul-searching Second Symphony. Both symphony and ballet are inspired by W.H. Auden’s masterful modernist poem, itself written in response to the atmosphere of disillusionment and uncertainty that followed the end of World War II.
Verdi’s life-long love affair with Shakespeare’s works began with Macbeth, a play he considered to be ‘one of the greatest creations of man’. With his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, Verdi set out to create ‘something out of the ordinary’. Their success is borne out in every bar of a score that sees Verdi at his most theatrical: it bristles with demonic energy. The warrior Macbeth fights on the side of the King of Scotland – but when a coven of witches prophesy that he shall become king himself, a ruthless ambition drives Macbeth and his wife to horrific acts. Murder makes Macbeth king, and intrigue and butchery are the hallmarks of his brief, doomed reign. The witches make another prediction, which also comes true: Macbeth and his lady lose their lives, and justice is restored.
Phyllida Lloyd’s 2002 production for The Royal Opera is richly hued, shot through with black, red and gold. The witches – imagined by designer Anthony Ward as strange, scarlet-turbaned creatures – are ever-present agents of fate. Lloyd depicts the Macbeths’ childlessness as the dark sadness lurking behind their terrible deeds. The Royal Opera’s production uses Verdi’s 1865 Paris revision of the opera, which includes Lady Macbeth’s riveting aria ‘La luce langue’.
Manon’s brother Lescaut is offering her to the highest bidder when she meets Des Grieux and falls in love. They elope to Paris, but when Monsieur G.M. offers Manon a life of luxury as his mistress she can’t resist. With the Lescauts’ encouragement Des Grieux cheats at cards in an attempt to win Monsieur G.M.’s fortune. They are caught. Manon is arrested as a prostitute and deported to New Orleans, followed by Des Grieux. On the run, Manon dies from exhaustion.
Kenneth MacMillan’s source for Manon was the 18th-century French novel already adapted for opera by Massenet and Puccini. The premiere was given on 7 March 1974, with the lead roles danced by Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. The ballet quickly became a staple of The Royal Ballet’s repertory, and a touchstone of adult, dramatic dance. MacMillan found new sympathy with the capricious Manon and her struggle to escape poverty. Designs by his regular collaborator Nicholas Georgiadis reflect this, depicting a world of lavish splendour polluted by miserable destitution. MacMillan’s spectacular ensemble scenes for the whole Company create vivid, complex portraits of the distinct societies of Paris and New Orleans. But it is Manon and Des Grieux’s impassioned pas de deux – recalling the intensity of MacMillan’s earlier Romeo and Juliet – that drive this tragic story, and make Manon one of MacMillan’s most powerful dramas.
A new production of the Rolls-Royce of English comedies, Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, will be broadcast live to cinemas from the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End. This entertaining and still topical play brings an act of political sin into the heart of the English home. As an ambitious government minister, Sir Robert Chiltern’s smooth ascent to the top seems assured until Mrs Cheveley appears in London with damning proof of his previous financial chicanery. This is the third play from the Oscar Wilde Season, a year-long celebration of the brilliant Victorian playwright being staged by the Classic Spring Theatre Company.
Swan Lake has had a special role in the repertory of The Royal Ballet since 1934. This Season The Royal Ballet creates a new production with additional choreography by Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett. While remaining faithful to the Petipa-Ivanov text, Scarlett will bring fresh eyes to the staging of this classic ballet, in collaboration with his long-term designer John Macfarlane.
Prince Siegfried chances upon a flock of swans while out hunting. When one of the swans turns into a beautiful woman, Odette, he is enraptured. But she is under a spell that holds her captive, allowing her to regain her human form only at night. Swan Lake was Tchaikovsky’s first ballet score. Given its status today as arguably the best loved and most admired of all classical ballets, it is perhaps surprising that at its premiere in 1877 Swan Lake was poorly received. It is thanks to the 1895 production by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov that Swan Lakehas become part of not only ballet consciousness but also wider popular culture. That success is secured not only by the sublime, symphonic sweep of Tchaikovsky’s score, but also by the striking choreographic contrasts between Petipa’s royal palace scenes and the lyric lakeside scenes created by Ivanov.
A new production of one of the funniest plays in English, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, will be broadcast live to cinemas from the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End. Wilde’s much-loved masterpiece throws love, logic and language into the air to make one of theatre’s most dazzling firework displays. Jack, Algy, Gwendolyn and Cecily discover how unsmooth runs the course of true love, while Lady Bracknell keeps a baleful eye on the mayhem of manners. This is the fourth and final play from the Oscar Wilde Season, a year-long celebration of the brilliant Victorian playwright being staged by the Classic Spring Theatre Company.