Yesterday afternoon I learned that the Berlin State Opera is taking somewhat unique approach to providing streaming content to those currently sheltering in place as a precaution against COVID-19. Every day a video of a past production is streamed through YouTube and is available at no charge for a period of 24 hours. Because that interval of time begins at noon on Central European Time, it means that access in the United States is a bit limited during normal waking hours. Nevertheless, I was able to check out the service early this afternoon.
The offering was a performance of the ballet The Nutcracker set to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The choreography was by Patrice Bart and almost immediately established itself as a radical departure from the narrative conceived by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The music was performed by the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The performance took place in 1999.
As might be expected, the camera spent little time in the orchestra pit. Nevertheless, the few shots of the podium suggested that Barenboim’s approach to this music was about as minimal as one could imagine. It was almost as it he decided that the orchestra had already synchronized its clock to the choreography, and the Concertmaster could take care of maintaining that synchronization. This proved to be more than a little disappointing, since Bart’s revisionist approach ran the full gamut from the muddled to the patently absurd. Any resemblance to the original narrative (or any other narrative, for that matter) was purely coincidental; and the primary objective seemed to be “the shock of the new.” Since many of Bart’s ideas did not align with the score as Tchaikovsky had composed it, there was a generous amount of reordering of the musical numbers.
The curious may wish to check out the You Tube Web page, if the 24-hour time limit has not yet expired. To be clear, I have experienced a fair number of different choreographic interpretations of this ballet. However, all of them have tended to honor the music the way Tchaikovsky wrote it, as well as the basic idea of a toy nutcracker coming to life and marrying its owner in a fairytale land replete with no end of sweet victuals. Also, to be fair, the audience response at the end of this video seemed to be enthusiastic; but I fear that this production will rub many ballet aficionados the wrong way.