Tag Archive: Leonid Yacobson

Munich’s Heroes

Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
December 23, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Shklyarov and ensemble, “Spartacus” by Y.Grigorovich, Bavarian State Ballet © W.Hösl 2016Since last Thursday, shortly before Christmas Eve, heroic fighters have commanded the stage of Munich’s National Theater. Hordes of men together with a few women all of them representing characters of either Thracian or Roman lineage, dance “Spartacus”, the epic about a Thracian man who, after having been enslaved by the Roman consul Crassus, engineers a revolt. What will happen, happens: Spartacus dies a hero’s death.

Big doses of fierce fighting and repeated displays of valor need a strong portion of the erotic in order to make them palatable to the audience. That is supplied by two women – Phrygia, Spartacus’s faithful mistress, and Aegina, Crassus’s conniving courtesan. The ballet’s action is based on the novella “Spartaco”, penned in 1874 by Raffaello Giovagnoli, who likely took liberties with historical material from before the Christian era.

There are plenty of “Spartacus” ballets in existence. Budapest, Vienna, Hong Kong and Cape Town have their own productions. Russia has seen four versions: the most recent is Georgy Kovtun’s for the Mikhailovsky Theatre. Aram Khachaturian had composed the music in 1954, and the first staging, by Igor Moiseyev for the Bolshoi in 1956 was short-lived. It was given only two performances, perhaps because it contained much pantomime but too little dancing. (more…)

Tracing the History of the Bolshoi

Simon Morrison:
“Bolshoi Confidential”
512 pages, b/w illustrations
W.W. Norton & Company, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-87140-296-7
November 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. “Bolshoi Confidential”, book cover © W.W. Norton & Company 2016Prompted by the abominable acid attack on Sergei Filin in early 2013, Nick Read and Mark Franchetti put the spotlight on what was going on behind the scenes of the Bolshoi Ballet. Their film “Bolshoi Babylon” was followed by a substantial book this October: “Bolshoi Confidential”, penned by Simon Morrison, professor of music at Princeton University focusing mainly on Russian and Soviet music. Morrison is an assiduous writer and the author of a number of books, two of them about Sergey Prokofiev. As it was for Read and Franchetti, the assault on Filin is also Morrison’s springboard. Yet he considerably widens the perspective on his subject.

The history of the Bolshoi, initially called Petrovsky Theatre, began in 1776, when Catherine the Great granted the Russian Prince Urusov exclusive rights for theatrical presentations. Urusov teamed up with the Englishman Michael Maddox, “either a mathematician or tightrope walker during his youth”, but financial straits forced him to surrender the reins to Maddox. Morrison takes us from there through almost 250 years of meandering, tumultuous evolution.

A stupendous amount of details and anecdotes illustrates how the Bolshoi overcame Napoleon’s invasion, then artistically prospered under imperial reign before being massively restricted in its artistic vitality by the Russian Bolsheviks. Three times destroyed by fire, the theater building has always been reconstructed on nearly the same place. It became bigger, more imposing and, though slowly, was equipped with the technical innovations of the time. Since 1825 it was commonly called the Bolshoi – meaning “Grand” – Theatre. (more…)