The Nutcracker, Royal Opera House, London

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I do not know of a better Nutcracker than Peter Wright’s staging for the Royal Ballet. It boasts virtues that are abundantly lacking in almost every other staging that I have seen – even unto Balanchine’s for his New York troupe, and certainly in most of the Frankenstein monsters that lurch on to stages at this time of year. (There was one double- whammy that combined Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol. Run for your lives!) Wright, celebrating his 80th birthday at this season, has not maltreated the narrative. The designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman beautifully establish the Biedermeier location of Hoffmann’s tale which is the excuse for Nutcracker, and the decoration is continually apt, poetic, eye-engaging.

The set-pieces of the Stahlbaum Christmas party, of the growing Christmas tree (still a gasp-maker), of the mouse-battle with its small comic touches and its skilled organisation, and the snow-scene, are admirably planned as dance-narrative. And here’s the greatest challenge – Tchaikovsky is nowhere betrayed.

His score is not what one might expect for a ballet on so flimsy a theme. It was Alexandre Benois, writing after the premiere in Petersburg in 1892, who first noted the elegiac character of the music for the grand pas de deux. And there is throughout the ballet what Benois discerned as “a feeling of tension, a kind of delirious languor” which should (and almost universally does not) colour a realisation of the tale. Wright does not cheat it. And nor, on Wednesday night when The Nutcracker returned in fine shape to Covent Garden, did Boris Gruzin, guiding a sensitive account from the orchestra.

Everything went very well on stage: charm, Gemütlichkeit at the Stahlbaum party; Gary Avis a superb Drosselmeyer; Iohna Loots and Ricardo Cervera delightful as Clara and her Nutcracker; Miyako Yoshida and Federico Bonelli radiant as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier; Sarah Lamb all lightness in the Flower Waltz. In sum, a Christmas present for ballet-lovers.
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