Mariinsky Ballet: “Raymonda” broadcast on Mariinsky.TV, June 2, 2020
Mariinsky Ballet’s spectacular production of “Raymonda,” presented on Mariinsky.TV as part of the company’s online season, is a real treat. Rarely seen in the West in its entirety, it’s a jewel of a ballet—the last great creation of Marius Petipa for the Imperial Russian Ballet.
Petipa was nearly 80 when “Raymonda” received its premiere in St. Petersburg in 1989 to enormous acclaim. The legendary ballet master would have a few more years of creativity in front of him, making a handful of ballets, including his witty “Les Millions d’Arlequins” (1900) for St. Petersburg’s Imperial Theater of Hermitage. But none of them rivalled the glory of “Raymonda.”
The current Mariinsky’s production of “Raymonda” is a 1948 restaging of the original Petipa, with cuts and alterations introduced by Konstantin Sergeyev and Fyodor Lopukhov; as such this condensed version distills the ballet to its essence, giving the title heroine—and her dancing—more prominence.
To have an appreciation of what “Raymonda” looked like in the time of Petipa, one need look for a recording of the 2011 reconstruction of the ballet by the Russian choreographer-historian and Mariinsky’s alumnus, Sergei Vikharev, for Milan’s La Scala Ballet. With 500 elaborate costumes and a 150-member cast, Vikharev’s staging overwhelms the senses: his lavish “Raymonda” unfolds as a grand cavalcade of classical and character ensembles that seems to never end, while leaving the main heroine—and her amorous plight—somewhat in the shadow.
Mariinsky’s “Raymonda,” though lacking in opulence and visual grandeur in comparison with La Scala’s, easily wins in other departments. The dancing in particular is the highlight of this production: in each and every scene, the purity of style as well as the elegance and sheer exuberance of Mariinsky’s excellent cast will take your breath away.
I was able to see this production in a live performance during Mariinsky Ballet’s visit to the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington D.C. in February in 2016. Watching it again online not only brought back the wonderful memories of this ballet but also allowed me to rediscover and appreciate anew the nuances of the choreography and to take pleasure, as never before, in the incomparable beauties of Alexander Glazunov’s score. In the online version, Valery Gergiev himself is conducting Mariinsky Orchestra—a musical treat in its own right.
In “Raymonda,” the scenario is the least interesting part of the show. Taking place in medieval times, the story presents a love triangle: two men—a young Crusader knight Jean de Brienne and a Saracen sheikh Abderakhman—are vying for love and affection of a beautiful noblewoman, Raymonda. To settle their claim on Raymonda’s hand in marriage, the two suitors fight in a sword duel. The winner (Jean de Brienne) gets the fair lady and their wedding celebration culminates the proceedings in a royal style.
Devoid of suspense and romantic drama, the ballet’s thin narrative, however, is a mere excuse for a vibrant cornucopia of divertissements, duets and solo variations, thus giving plenty of opportunities for Mariinsky’s dancers to shine. And shine they did: from the assorted classical and character ensembles of Act I, to the sizzling Saracen dances of Act II, to the celebrated Grand Pas Classique Hongrois of the final act, Mariinsky’s corps de ballet danced with polish, irresistible energy and commitment.
Viktoria Tereshkina reigned supreme in the role of Raymonda. A definitive test of technical prowess, this is one of the most dazzling and challenging roles in the 19th-century ballet repertory. This part was created for the superb technician, Pierina Legnani, the original Odette-Odile of Mariinsky’s “Swan Lake,” who is considered one of the greatest ballerinas of all times.
A dark-haired beauty, with an exquisite body and expressive eyes, Tereshkina perfectly suited for this role. She is a prodigious allegro ballerina, capable of delivering a stunning display of pointework while darting onstage with a thunderous speed. Her jumps are light and free; her whirlwind turns are of astonishing virtuosity. Yet she is also a refined performer, with a fine line and delicate phrasing.
From her first entrance in Act I (this scene echoes the entrance of Aurora in “The Sleeping Beauty”), she established her heroine as a strong, vivacious and determined young woman, her breeze footwork reflected her Raymonda’s free will and spirited attitude. Yet she also radiated utter charm, dancing with a wonderful sense of elegance and nuance. Her graceful solo with a long silky white scarf was especially memorable.
Even if the role of Raymonda doesn’t offer much in terms of dramatic expression, Tereshkina imbued her character with soul, vulnerability and charisma. Her duet with her fiancé Jean de Brienne (the ardent Xander Parish) in the Vision Scene was as technically flawless as it was emotionally affecting. She was able to establish a palpable passionate connection with her partner, giving the romantic dilemma of her heroine poignancy and credibility.
Xander Parish was admirably attentive in his manner and stylish in his dancing as the brave knight de Brienne. His chemistry with Tereshkina was undeniable and that made their duets, especially the grand wedding pas de deux in the final act, all the more exciting and a real pleasure to watch.
As the lustful and intimidating Abderakhman, Konstantin Zverev portrayed the role with a potent mix of malice and passion. In his agonizing heartbreak, his Saracen warrior was as pitiful as he was poignant, inspiring both empathy and regret. And Zverev’s aerial display in the second act deserves a special note.
Glazunov’s music, replete with irresistible and tuneful melodies, comes in this recording particularly alive: the Mariinsky Orchestra delivered a soulful rendition of the score, unearthing the poetry and romantic fragrance of the music, thus making this “Raymonda” all the more memorable.