(President's box from Thursday, March 29, 2007 at Teatro alla Scala's La Dame aux Camélias. Fabrizio Ferri, husband of Alessandra Ferri, is front row, first on the left.)
The thirty-year legacy of John Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camélias was originally via ballerina Marcia Haydée and the Stuttgarter Ballett where Die Kameliendame premiered to the German audiences in November 1978, and still has a popular run with contemporary audiences.
Of course, the ballet is based on Alexandre Dumas Junior’s novel of the same name, and centers around his romantic adventures in the Paris suburb Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he encountered courtesan Marie Duplessis, and had a fiery love affair. Our fair lady died early from tuberculosis (à la Verdi’s Violetta), but apparently her beauty attracted many rich and famous lovers, notably Franz Liszt who was rumored to have given her piano lessons (NOT a metaphor). In honor of la dame, I went very N.O.W kick-a$$ in a Chloe camel silk shirt, matching Chloe black straight-leg trousers, my Burberry trench (this entire past week in Milan has been sporadically rainy), my rawk-n-r0ll Sonia Rykiel black studded slouch tote, and Costume National black booties. Onto things more substantial, eh?
The accompanying music for the ballet was chosen by John Neumeier after a long trial, eventually settling on Frédéric Chopin. He was quoted:
"The subject had been chosen; however, I didn’t know yet which music to use. My first idea was to have Verdi’s opera re-arranged, a project that I soon abandoned. Subsequently I found the score for a full-evening ballet on the same theme, by the French composer Henry Sauguet: nevertheless, after closely examining this music, it did not seem adequate to me either. The date of the beginning of the rehearsals was coming closer. I met the conductor Gerhard Markson by chance over a lunch, and I asked him: 'Which music would you choose for a ballet inspired by Dumas’s Lady of the Camellias?'. He thought for a few minutes and answered me: 'Chopin or Berlioz, or both'".
Now that the music is down, this is where we begin to have problems. The story is so convoluted, non-linear, and esoteric. It is just too complex, especially during Act III. All complaints from peers who have seen this production is that it is indeed exhausting to follow (bordering on b0ring), and Opera Chic definitely agrees.
The crux of the confusion lay with the introduction of characters Manon Lescaut and Des Grieux from Abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut. Ummmm yeah can i get a whut whut? These figures are nowhere to be found in Dumas Junior’s novel, nor in Verdi’s La Traviata, btw. They become central figures, mimicking and mirroring the relationship between Alessandra Ferri’s Marguerite and Roberto Bolle’s Armand Duval. Neumeier admits that he took the concept from the Dumas fils novel where Marguerite receives Manon Lescaut as a present from Armand, which is the same novel that Armand desperately seeks. Also, in the ballet, Marguerite and Armand meet at the theater during a performance of Manon Lescaut, so it becomes a-drama-within-a-drama.
The ballet begins with Act I in complete silence for a couple of (pretty awkward) minutes, the scenery of the late-Marguerite’s home, while an auction of her clothing and possessions is unfolding. Then we dissolve to the above mentioned ballet-within-ballet, where the lovers are attending Manon Lescaut at the theater, dancing to Chopin’s Piano concerto No. 2.
For Act II, the orchestra had left the pit to make a LAN party or something equally lame, leaving the audience only with piano accompaniment. We have been transported Alfredo’s French countryside cottage, and expect Violetta to barge-in at any moment. A piano occupies the stage with several couples dancing a pastoral dance party. The accompaniment is a medley of Chopin waltzes and repertoire. Next thing you know, Armand’s father gets pissy, and demands the couples to leave because he can’t stand his son dancing with a lol hussy lol. Then some stuff happens, the extras dance again, and then Bolle is savagely dry-humping a lady in pink after he rips open her bodice. *yawnz0r* Then more dance stuff, and Marguerite and Armand make teh secks, (via interpretive dance) and fall asleep in each others’ arms. Honestly, OC was so tired at this point, and the Chopin music was lulling me to into a repressed flashback of impatient piano teachers making me drill some Charles-Louis Hanon, that I was barely paying attention. sry sry ok ok whatevs.
Act III…aaaaaand what the frick??? Who knows what the heyll happened here? This ballet devolved into ladies in black gowns and the men in faux-tuxedos and spandex tights. I think Marguerite went to see Manon at the theater again before dying. Well, maybe. There were two ballroom scenes, and then some more dancing, and then Marguerite dies.
Technically, it was apparent that this ballet's choreography was waaaay beyond demanding and specialized. The polished skill of Bolle and Ferri couldn’t even make these moves appear easy. But to the layman, the choreography is really boring. The music, adversely, is tremendously gorgeous; but then again, as a Chopin junkie, you could set Bronenosets Potyomkin to Chopin and I prolly could watch it ad infinitum. OMG I soooo want a Battleship Potemkin opera. Quick somebody call someone tia.
Ferri, impossible to cut-up, was spectacular. She is as lithe and blithe (heh) as a dancer half her age. Bolle is on Atkins or something and is now troppo magro. His head is like 8x the size of his body. Next time la costumière should paint on musculature like Mr. Slim Goodbody's leotard to give him some bulk.