Visually sumptuous, vibrant, and set to a gorgeous score, Raymonda is one of the delights of the classical repertoire. The Paris Opera Ballet production opens next week.
This tale – based on a medieval legend – was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa, with a libretto by the author and columnist, Countess Lidia Pashkova, and set to a score by Alexander Glazunov. The ballet had its world premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre on 7th January, 1898, and this production, by Rudolf Nureyev, was first staged for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1983, the year in which Nureyev became Director of the Comany.
French-born Petipa – who became one of the most influential ballet masters and choreographers in the history of ballet – spent more than six decades at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, his name becoming synonymous with most of the great ballets in the Russian repertoire – and ultimately the classical repertoire worldwide. Having made his first appearance there as Premier Danseur in 1847, he rose through the ranks of choreographer to Chief Choreographer, and was ultimately promoted to the position of Premier Maître de Ballet of the Imperial Theatres in 1871, his genius leading to what was known the Golden Age of Russian Ballet.
Raymonda was Glazunov’s first ballet score, and is regarded as perhaps his best-known work. The commission came following the death of Tchaikovsky, when the Director of the Imperial Theatre was looking for a composer to work with the then Ballet Master, Marius Petipa. Very much representative of the Romantic style, Glazunov – who had been a student of Rimsky-Korsakov – is known for producing richly melodic symphonies, concertos for various instruments, and ballet scores. Regarded as a great Russian composer from an early age, he became an instructor in composition and orchestration – and ultimately head – of the St Petersburg Conservatory, before leaving the Soviet Union in 1928. He made his final home in France, where he died in 1936.
Raymonda has the distinction of being the first great ballet staged in Europe by Rudolf Nureyev after his dramatic defection from the Soviet Union in 1961. Largely unknown outside Russia until the Nureyev productions were staged, it was first seen in a production by The Royal Ballet at the Spoleto Festival in Italy in 1964. Nureyev subsequently staged three other versions before the opening of the 1983-84 season of the Paris Opera Ballet.
His version remains true to the Petipa original as far as the variations, the pas de deux, and Act III are concerned. Changes to Acts I and II included adaptations of the variations for the character Jean de Brienne, and two variations for Abderam in the second act – thus creating a new role for this character, and replacing the role which had previously been mimed only.
The role of Raymonda is considered to be one of the most demanding in the classical ballet repertoire. The virtuosity of the dancer needs to combine the vivacity of the variations with the elegance of the adagios, the graceful dignity of the Pas d’action and the grandeur of the spirited Grand pas Classique – never departing from the unmistakable Hungarian influence which runs through the ballet, which is also reflected in Glazunov’s score.
Nureyev commissioned the brilliant Greek designer, Nicholas Georgiadis, to create the wonderfully exotic scenery and costumes which bring an oriental flair to this production. Georgiadis – who produced some of his best known work for British choreographer Kenneth MacMillan – developed a close partnership with Nureyev, creating designs for his production of The Sleeping Beauty for London Festival Ballet, as well as several works for Paris Opera Ballet. Georgiadis is also known for the many opera productions which he designed.
The story of Raymonda tells of the love between the young Raymonda and the serene and noble knight, Jean de Brienne, who has to leave her to accompany the King of Hungary on a crusade. In his absence, the malevolent Saracen chief, Abderam, who covets Raymonda, offers her power and riches in return for her hand. When she rejects him, he tries to abduct her, but the knight de Brienne returns in time to save her from this fate. In challenging Abderam to a duel, de Brienne overpowers him, and the lovers are reunited. The King blesses the union, and the wedding celebrations culminate in a vibrant and colourful Hungarian dance.
Estonian conductor Vello Pähn – Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Estonian National Opera – conducts the Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris, the Étoiles, Premiers Danseurs and the Corps de Ballet de l’Opéra in Rudolf Nureyev’s staging of Raymonda at the Opéra Bastille from 2nd to 31st December 2019. For further information and tickets, visit the Paris Opera Ballet website.
Information sourced from:Paris Opéra Ballet programme notese