Vineana or The Silver Rose

Today was D’s birthday. D prefers the ballet to the opera, and his birthday falls in the ballet season. In what could well become an annual event (so long as he and I are spared) we went to the Australian Ballet, in this case to Graeme Murphy’s hommage to and balletic adaptation of Der Rosenkavalier, The Silver Rose.

This was originally commissioned for performance in Munich, in the very theatre (well, rebuilt after the you-know-what) where Strauss’s opera received its premiere. Perversely, one might have thought, the music is not an adaptation of Strauss (presumably still in copyright – amazingly) but rather by Carl Vine. Vine cobbled together a score made up of adaptations/extracts of 20 years of concert music. I probably should have recognized some of it, were I more familiar with his oeuvre or were it more distinctively memorable.

The music was effective and particularly featured piano concertante moments, well-played by Stuart Mayne. These were obviously amplified: I wondered if a Disklavier was being used; an off-duty AOBA violinist told me afterwards the whole orchestra was amplified. If this were the opera, I would be concerned, but I’m less jealous of acoustic values at the ballet, and once one instrument is amplified it’s probably appropriate to do the lot for the mix.

Carl Vine has a fluent and very approachable style. Sometimes perhaps it is a bit too much of both: the music for the presentation of the rose reminded me of nothing so much as Western (as in Bonanza) music (OK: I know this begs the question of why this music is used for Westerns, which probably is related to the Mitteleuropan origin of “Red Indian” music) beloved of cigarette or beer advertisements. Think Marlboro Country or VB. At least those were the sorts of pieces I thought of, though once I relisten to those particular pieces the resemblance is less than it seemed on reminiscence in the theatre.

I’m not a balletomane and it always takes me a while to accustom myself to ballet’s narrative mode. Things warmed up in the second and third acts. For my taste, the third act could have made a bit more of both the Mariandel part of the action and also the balletic version of the big trio towards the end. It all seemed to flash by rather quickly if you are used to operatic notions of time.

The set was very handsome (Bavarian money helped, I expect, even if we owe this production to the fact that after only 5 years they apparently couldn’t afford to keep the sets in storage: We’re sorry, we’re going to have to let you go – which rather suggests that this ballet did not capture the Münchners’ hearts and minds). As seems to now be a convention when there is an anachronistic transposition, it was set in Straussian Jugendstil rather than Maria-Theresan roccoco. The costumes were a little more chronologically eclectic, though the suggestion in the program notes that the police uniforms were inspired by Gestapo uniforms seems like a bit of uninformed SBS-Hitler-Kitsch.

Assisted in a postmodernist way by my familiarity with teh opera, I found myself moved, even to tears, by the end (D took my hand). Ah, chocolate box romance! – Bitter-sweet, of course. I’m not sure the ballet without any knowledge of the opera would have had quite the same effect.

Which is to say that my appetite is whetted for the real thing, which is coming up at the end of Opera Australia’s season in October this year.

I remain amused at the Ballet’s vigilance in reminding ballet-goers on concessions by preshow announcements over the PA system that they must be ready to present evidence of their concessional entitlement at the theatre-door. Are such challenges actually issued by the Opera House staff, or are these announcements just an indirect manifestation of the rigours of balletic discipline (with corresponding authoritarianism) and a long-ago bee in somebody’s bonnet?

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