Adolphe Adam was a middling successful 19th century French composer who is best remembered by the public at large today, if indeed he is remembered at all, for his beautiful Christmas carol "O Holy Night." That simple little piece is Adam's music in microcosm--a carefully, clearly constructed melody with flowing harmonies and a classic symmetry that gives it an immediacy that most listeners understand on an instinctual level. The fact is, Adam was better known in his own day for his operas and ballets, none more so than Giselle, which receives an elegant if somewhat uninspired performance in this new Blu-ray.
This is not the most entrancing of ballets, and in fact one might generalize outward from its somewhat dimwitted heroine (who kept reminding me of the similarly "challenged" damsel in Light in the Piazza, for better or worse) to the work as a whole. Adam is competent, at times extremely melodic and rhythmically acute, but in the end, what we get is sort of a warmed over precursor that has the tragic elements of Swan Lake, but none of that ballet's mystery and majesty.
Giselle's titular heroine is a rustic agragrian sort who falls in love with a passing stranger, who is under disguise. A woodsman who has only good intentions at heart warns Giselle about this interloper, to no avail. Giselle falls head over heels in love, even after the stranger is revealed to be betrothed to someone else. That sets a long (too long, some would argue) chain of events into motion that spells certain death for just about everyone. Good times, good times--at least insofar as there ever are in classical ballet.
This is a well staged and beautifully danced performance that can't overcome the deficiencies of its source material. Giselle is too earthbound (literally, after ghosts start appearing out of the ground), with not enough of a resounding affirmation of life or saving grace to offset its rather dour proceedings. Tragedy is, of course, when you slip on a banana peel (as opposed to comedy, which is when someone else slips), but there's such a distance between these characters and any empathy the audience may feel for them that Giselle simply comes off as a massive downer, with the occasional lovely melody to accompany your depression.
For those of you who may be fans of the ballet, the good news is this Covent Garden production is well staged, with a commanding prima ballerina in Alina Cojocaru. Cojocaru handles the technical elements of the ballet with ease, and manages to impart Giselle's simplicity and forlorn qualities with assurance. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera Houes under the direction of Boris Gruzin is full bodied and expressive, if never outstandingly brilliant. The production design is passable, with thatched roof huts and simple backdrops evincing the rustic environment, and the supernatural elements indicated mostly in the costuming choices.
Giselle is an interesting piece at least from an evolutionary standpoint in the history of Romanticism. It offers the nascent emotionalism and subjectivity that were the hallmarks of the movement, but it rarely rises to the heights that, say, Tchaikovsky was able to, working with many of the same elements. If you look at it as the necessary first step in a long artistic process, Giselle offers small, but distinct, charms. Standing on its own two en pointe feet, it's an often simple-minded ballet that never finds redemption, either in its own libretto, or in how it affects its audience.
Giselle offers an excellent image in an AVC 1.78:1 transfer. Colors are bright, if never very bold, and detail is excellent throughout. The omnipresent use of whites works quite well on this BD, with no blooming or other color issues to report.
This is not an incredibly bombastic score, but both the PCM 2.0 and 5.0 mixes support it quite effortlessly. Balance and orchestral articulation are top notch, with superb range and fidelity. This being a ballet, hopefully you know you don't need any subtitles.
A rather paltry set of extras supplement this release, including an illustrated synopsis, a cast gallery, and the typically informative insert booklet.
It's hard to get excited about a property like Giselle, one of those hoary classics that makes a lot of people's eyes (and ears) gloss over. This is certainly a competent production, so if you're a fan of the piece, you could do worse than to rent it for an evening's entertainment. For the bulk of the public at large, this is a big Skip It.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet