Giselle, Royal Opera House, London – review

Giselle as one of the finest flowers of the Romantic ballet, or Giselle as irresistible vehicle for a ballerina? These are implicit choices for a ballet troupe and, characteristically, the Royal Ballet has really not made up its mind in this present revival. Peter Wright’s production wears well and gains accretions and revisions, so it seems, with each return to the repertory, but remains tremendously wooded in its settings. (An axe would be welcome in the second-act forest.)

On Saturday night this dichotomy seemed more cussed than usual since Natalya Osipova was the Giselle. It is a characterisation in which she grandly deploys her astonishing elevation and ballon – the dance inhabiting the air, seeking the air – and her vivid dramatic presence, where nothing is without meaning or emotional force. But this version is not really prepared for such power, and both her prodigious technique and her intensity of expression push at the bounds of the staging, even of her role, and make her surroundings seem demure and not a little predictable.

And so we watch the careful, traditional interpretations of the subsidiary figures who frame her reading, are affronted by the brutish orchestration in the first act under Boris Gruzin’s baton, and see Osipova’s intensities break the limitations of the staging in a mad-scene better suited to some braver (and more ballerina-centric) presentation. Osipova’s second act is a hymn to her ability to hold the dance high over the stage, and to her rare expressivity – so vivid that her surroundings, both scenic and dramatic, seem pallidly decent, and little more than that.

For the rest, Carlos Acosta was an attentive Albrecht, with Thomas Whitehead a stylish Hilarion, and I admired Akane Takada and Elizabeth Harrod as leading Wilis for their fine-drawn dancing. Laurels to the viola player in the second act for the grace of his musicianship, but I would consign most of the first act orchestration to the slough of despond whence it came: it urgently needs a return to Adam’s original. The corps de ballet of Wilis were fine and deserve bouquets. Lethargic orchestral tempi – generously on offer to accord with Osipova’s interpretation – do not.

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