Whilst there is no avoiding the trials and tribulations of “modern times” there is the chance to escape and to visit a world which whilst it certainly is not without stress or tension, is joyous to behold and a delight to listen to. This is the world of The Nutcracker – surely one of the great works of art of the last couple of hundred years? Â The production at London’s Royal Opera House dates back in the first instance to 1984 when Peter Wright’s choreography was first performed by The Royal Ballet. But in reality Wright’s work dates all the way back to the very first performances in St Petersburg in 1892 with choreography by Ivanov. Wright sought as far as possible to reproduce the steps and movements created by Ivanov so in a sense what we see today is pretty close to what would have been seen in the Mariinsky Theatre 117 years ago. Â But this is no more a cast in preservative retrospective than it is a modern interpretation. For The Nutcracker is timeless both in story and style – we are not lost in history and viewing an antique.
The staging at the Royal Opera House is sumptuous from the stunning costumes to the brilliant use of special effects on the theatre’s giant stage. At the matinee performance that I attended the audience was perhaps 50% children and the awe and wonder on their faces and the fact that they sat entranced throughout with hardly a murmur, other than the frequent intake of breath as another marvel unfolded, says a lot. It is mesmerising theatre in every way from the moment that the first notes of Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable score are heard. Music enthusiasts of more than tender years, like me, will have heard the music a hundred times or more. And yet there is nothing clichÃ©d or over-familiar about it – it is like an old friend who still entrances and excites despite the familiarity. Not the familiarity of contempt – just absolute comfort that there is a bond with the music that is special.
The dancers were wonderful and it would be invidious to pick out any. There were quite a few understudies in the performance that I saw, but they danced wonderfully and fitted seamlessly into the show. I greatly enjoyed Emma Maguire’s Clara which I thought without being in any way leaning towards teenage angst did well to capture emerging teenage ardour – especially in that fleeting glance towards the very handsome Nutcracker at the end.
It is impossible to imagine a more perfect setting for The Nutcracker than the Royal Opera House. If the pursuit of excellence is the main driver in subsidised performance arts than the ROH delivers incomparably well. As a taxpayer I foot some of the bill and as a member of the audience from time to time rather more. It is elitist in the very best sense of the word- there is no compromise of standards anywhere in the building from the performances on the stage to the comfort and style of the restaurants and bars. The medium is, as always, the message and the medium is personal exposure to the very best – and at a price in excellent seats not that different from a Premiership football match and cheaper than a day at Lord’s!