Magazine article The Spectator

Verdi Winner

Magazine article The Spectator

Verdi Winner

Article excerpt

Dance

Birmingham Royal Ballet (Sadler's Wells)

Although Giuseppe Verdi's ballet music might not be every musicologist's desert-island choice, there are many in the dance profession who found and still find it highly inspiring. And there is little doubt that some fine 20th-century dance works owe part of their popularity to Verdi's music, proving that, contrary to general opinion, Verdi's ballets are not lesser expressions of his musical genius.

It is a pity that the titan of Italian opera never composed a full-length dance work, for he certainly knew how to write music for dance and how to make ballet music 'speak'. He also had a kind of innate choreographic talent, as is demonstrated by his detailed notes describing the action his music was to portray and accompany in some of those ballets. In the Four Seasons divertissement from Les Vepres siciliennes, for instance, the painstakingly fussy way he described the actions to be performed by the dancers is almost unique for that time and reveals a kind of choreographic fervour one would not normally associate with such a notoriously introverted and cantankerous composer.

And it is probably because of such careful planning that, together with Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, the Four Seasons ballet has become one of the best-known choreographic interludes one can think of. As such, it has frequently appealed to eminent dance makers, including Jerome Robbins and Kenneth MacMillan. While the former relied on a humorous yet affectionate 20thcentury view of the heyday of the grandopera genre, the latter delved into the delicate tones and undertones provided by the score, thus showing that there was more to Verdi's ballet music than just catchy oomp-pa-pa tunes.

In his new choreographic version of the ballet, entitled The Seasons, David Bintley has opted for an intriguing and pleasantly seamless combination of stylistic and technical opposites. …

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