Libretto by Jules Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges
and Joseph Mazilier edited by Marius Petipa
Choreography: Marius Petipa
Revival: Alexei Ratmansky, Yuri Burlaka
New Choreography: Alexei Ratmansky
Designer: Boris Kaminsky
Costume Designer: Yelena Zaitseva
Music Director: Pavel Klinichev
Lighting Designer: Damir Ismagilov
Presented with two intervals.
Use is made in the production of music by Leo Delibes, Cesare Pugni, Pyotr von Oldenburg, Riccardo Drigo, Albert Zabel, Julius Gerber. Synopsis
Music dramaturgy conception – Yuri Burlaka
Score restored by Alexander Troitsky
The original score by Adolphe Adam/Leo Delibes for Le Corsaire has been made available by L’Opera national de Paris from the archives of La Bibliotheque nationale de France
The choreographic notation has been made available by the Harvard University Theatre Collection
Evgeny Ponomaryov’s costume sketches (1899) used in the production have been made available by the St. Petersburg State Theatre Library
Medora is Kidnapped
The bazaar square. The beautiful slave-girls who are up for sale, sit awaiting buyers; here too throngs a crowd of Turks, Greeks, Armenians who are examining the wares brought from all corners of the earth.
A band of corsairs appear in the square, led by Conrad. He has evidently come to the bazaar to carry out his secret plan to meet a certain beautiful stranger.
Medora, the ward of bazaar-owner Isaac Lanquedem, comes out on to the balcony of her guardian’s house. Seeing Conrad, she quickly makes a selam* out of the flowers she has to hand and throws it to him. The latter, reading the selam is delighted, because now he is convinced the beautiful Medora loves him.
Isaac and Medora appear in the square. While Isaac examines the slave-girls, Medora and Conrad exchange passionate and meaningful glances.
A rich buyer appears in the square - Seyd-Pasha - and his suite. He is surrounded by dealers showing off their girls, but not one of the latter pleases the Pasha. Then Seyd-Pasha catches sight of Medora. He decides come what may to purchase her but Isaac refuses to sell him his ward, obsequiously explaining to Seyd-Pasha that she is not for sale and offering him instead a pair of other maidens.
But Seyd-Pasha insists on buying Medora. His offers are so advantageous and attractive that Isaac is unable to resist them and agrees to the deal. Issuing an order that the new slave-girl he has just bought be delivered to his harem, Seyd-Pasha goes off, threatening Isaac with punishment if Medora is not immediately dispatched to his harem. Conrad calms down Medora, promising that the corsairs will kidnap her.
At a sign from Conrad, the corsairs start a merry dance with the slave-girls, in which Medora takes an active part, to the great delight of all present. But suddenly, Conrad gives the signal, and the corsairs make off with the slave-girls and Medora too. Isaac runs after Medora and tries to snatch her from the corsairs; Conrad orders that Isaac, who is frightened out of his wits, should also be seized.
The corsairs’ den. The corsairs, with their rich booty and captive maidens return to their lair; also brought here is the trembling Isaac. Medora, saddened by the fate of her fellow slaves, begs Conrad to free them and he agrees. Birbanto and the other pirates protest, saying that they too have a right to the women. They become mutinous. Conrad, deflecting a blow aimed at him, forces Birbanto to his knees; then he soothes a frightened Medora and carefully protecting her, goes through with her into the tent.
Taking advantage of the general confusion, Isaac decides to make his escape. However he is seen by Birbanto and the other pirates who taunt him and, taking all his money, suggest that he participate in a plot to get back Medora. Picking a flower from the bunch, Birbanto sprays it with a sleeping potion, he then hands it to Isaac and tells him to give it to Conrad.
Conrad appears and arranges for dinner to be served. While the corsairs are having their supper, Medora dances for Conrad who swears eternal love to her.
Gradually the corsairs disperse, except for Birbanto and several of his henchmen who are keeping an eye on Conrad and Medora. Isaac now appears with a young slave-girl; pointing to Medora, he tells the slave-girl to give her the flower. Medora, clasps the flower to her breast and hands it to Conrad, adding that flowers explain all her love for him. Conrad, lovingly presses the flower to his lips but the intoxicating smell goes to his head and, despite his incredible efforts not to succumb to its effect, he immediately falls into a deep sleep. Birbanto makes a sign to the plotters to put their plan into action.
Medora is taken aback at Conrad suddenly falling asleep. She is surrounded by the corsairs who threaten her. Trying to defend herself, Medora stabs Birbanto in the arm and, attempting to flee, she faints and falls into the arms of her kidnappers.
Dismissing his henchmen, Birbanto is about to make short work of Conrad when the latter wakes up. Hearing that Medora has been abducted, Conrad and the corsairs set off in pursuit.
The Corsair’s Captive
Seyd-Pasha’s palace. The bored odalisques start playing various games. Zulma demands that the odalisques show her respect, but Gulnare and her friends mock the haughty sultana.
Enter Seyd-Pasha. The odalisques are required to bow down before their master, but the unruly Gulnare mocks him too. Seyd-Pasha, carried away by her youth and beauty, throws her his handkerchief, but Gulnare throws it on to her friends, eventually the handkerchief, passing from hand to hand, reaches an old negress who, picking it up, starts to chase Seyd-Pasha, smothering him with her caresses. Seyd-Pasha is hard put to it to contain his anger.
In an attempt to please the Pasha, the Keeper of the harem brings forward three odalisques.
Zulma tries to attract the Pasha’s attention but, at that moment, the latter is told of the arrival of the slave trader.
Catching sight of Isaac, who leads in Medora, Seyd-Pasha is overjoyed. Medora begs Seyd-Pasha to grant her her freedom but, seeing that he is unrelenting, complains of cruel treatment by her guardian; Seyd-Pasha orders the eunuch to send the Jew packing. Going up to Medora, Gulnare is kind to her and sympathizes with her lot. Seyd-Pasha offers Medora various jewels but, to Seyd-Pasha’s displeasure and Gulnare’s joy, she turns them down outright.
The leader of a group of dervishes appears, who requests lodging for the night. Seyd-Pasha permits the dervishes to put up in his garden. Amused at the dervishes’ embarrassment at the sight of the young, seductive slave-girls, Seyd-Pasha promises to acquaint them with all the delights his harem has to offer and orders the slave-girls to start dancing.
Among the beautiful dancing girls, Conrad recognizes his beloved.
At the end of the celebration, Seyd-Pasha orders that Medora be conducted to his private rooms in the palace. Throwing off their dervish disguise, the corsairs threaten Seyd-Pasha with their daggers; Conrad and Medora embrace.
The corsairs are engrossed in their plundering of Seyd-Pasha’s palace. Gulnare comes running in. pursued by Birbanto, she rushes up to Medora and begs for her help. Conrad takes Gulnare’s part, meanwhile Medora recognizes Birbanto as her kidnapper and informs Conrad of his treacherous action. Laughing, Birbanto denies her accusation; in confirmation of her words, Medora points out to Conrad the wound she inflicted on Birbanto by stabbing him in the arm. Conrad is about to shoot the traitor, but Medora and Gulnare restrain him and Birbanto runs off shouting threats.
Medora, giddy with weakness and nervous tension, is on the point of fainting but, with assistance from Gulnare and Conrad, she regains consciousness and, at their request, is about to follow them when, suddenly, Seyd-Pasha’s guards burst into the hall. The corsairs are routed, Conrad is disarmed and sentenced to death. Seyd-Pasha is victorious.
Seyd-Pasha’s private rooms in the palace. Seyd-Pasha gives orders that preparations get underway for his wedding to Medora. He proposes to Medora who indignantly turns him down. Conrad in chains is led to his execution. Medora, seeing the terrible plight of her loved one, begs Seyd-Pasha to show him mercy. Seyd-Pasha promises to pardon Conrad on the condition that Medora, of her own free will, agrees to be his. Medora is at her wit’s end and, in despair, she accepts Seyd-Pasha’s terms.
Left on their own, Conrad hurries over to Medora who tells him on what condition Seyd-Pasha has agreed to free him. Conrad rejects the nefarious condition and they decide to die together. Gulnare who has been observing them suggests a plan; the lovers agree to it and thank her profusely.
Seyd-Pasha returns. Medora informs him she accepts his terms. Overjoyed, Seyd-Pasha gives orders that Conrad be freed from all form of persecution and that preparations be put in hand for the wedding ceremony.
The wedding procession approaches, the bride is covered by a veil. At the end of the ceremony, Seyd-Pasha gives the bride his arm, and puts a ring on her finger. The dances of the odalisques bring the wedding to an end.
Left alone with Seyd-Pasha Medora tries to entice him with her dances, but it is quite obvious that she can’t wait for the hour of her delivery. Catching sight of the pistol in Seyd-Pasha’s belt, she says it frightens her and asks him to take it off. Seyd-Pasha does as he is asked and hands the pistol to Medora. Her fear increases at the sight of the dagger, also tucked in his belt. To calm her down once and for all, Seyd-Pasha pulls the dagger free and gives it to her. He then tries to embrace her but, dancing, Medora slips nimbly from his grasp. Seyd-Pasha falls at her feet and, imploring her love, gives her his handkerchief. As if for a joke, she ties his hands up with it and he, amused, laughs at her prank. On the stroke of midnight, Conrad appears. Seyd-Pasha is horrified when he sees Medora hand over his dagger to Conrad; he wants to call for help but Medora aims the pistol at him and says she will kill him if he so much as opens his mouth. Seyd-Pasha doesn’t dare utter a word, meanwhile Medor and Conrad quickly escape.
Seyd-Pasha tries to free himself. Gulnare comes running in and, feigning horror, unties his hands. Seyd-Pasha summons his guard and orders them to pursue the fugitives. Three shots of the cannon bring the news that the corsairs’ ship has set sail. Seyd-Pasha has a violent fit of temper: his beloved wife has been abducted. "I’m your wife", says Gulnare, and, pointing to her wedding finger she adds, "This is your ring!"
Seyd-Pasha is left in a state of shock.
Storm and Shipwreck
At sea. A clear and peaceful night on deck. The corsairs are celebrating their liberation. Only the hapless Birbanto, in chains, does not take part in the merry-making. Taking pity on him, Medora asks Conrad to forgive Birbanto and the latter joins in her pleas. After some hesitation Conrad pardons Birbanto who requests permission to regale his fellow pirates with a barrel of wine.
There is a swift change in the weather and a storm gets up; taking advantage of the confusion, Birbanto again starts to stir up trouble with the pirates, but Conrad throws him overboard. The storm gets worse: there are peals of thunder, flashes of lightning and a very rough sea. A resounding crack is heard and the ship goes aground on a rock.
The wind slowly dies down and the sea becomes calm again. The moon comes out and two figures are lit up in its silvery light: these are Medora and Conrad who, miraculously, haven’t drowned. They reach the rock, clamber up onto it and thank God for their salvation.
*Selam - bouquet in which each flower has special meaning. The language of flowers and communication by means of a ’flower code’ was very popular in Europe at the end of the 18th-19th centuries
Characters and performersNew Look at an Old Ballet
This Bolshoi Theatre production is intended for those who still seek for miracles in theatre. If you are moved to applaud the flooded with sunlight bazaar square which comes to view as the curtains are pulled back, if the piles of stage-prop pears and peaches delight your eye and make your mouth water, if you wish to penetrate to the gist of the touchingly naive pantomime via which these intriguing - dressed in attires that are out of this world - pasha-eunuchs-slave-girls communicate, if the magic of a shipwreck on stage excites you more than the real thing in the film version of the Titanic, then have no doubt, you are a potential fan of this Le Corsaire.
And if, in addition, you are as passionate about ballet as was Petipa, who embellished the old Paris original with marvelous choreographic tableaux and numbers of his own and if you love it as much as do the creators of the Bolshoi-2007 version of Le Corsaire - Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka who have attempted to revive - here the creations of their famous predecessor - there - simply his signature, you will become a devotee of this ballet and attend performances of it just as regularly as you do those of La Bayadere or Swan Lake.
This is real "grand ballet" where there is enough dance for virtually the whole company at once, while the prima-ballerina proves her right to this title almost without a break. And although this Le Corsaire is far removed from its literary source (Byron’s poem of the same name, dear reader), its libretto is quite capable of satisfying society’s love of the pirate-romantic genre.
A great deal of work was involved in launching this Le Corsaire. The creators of the ballet studied archive material in Moscow’s Bakhrushin Museum and in the St. Petersburg State Theatre Library; with the assistance of the Paris Opera, the original score was retrieved from La Bibliotheque national de France; the old costumes and sets were reproduced, while, having deciphered the original dance notation in the Harvard Theatre collection, Ratmansky and Burlaka added dances of their own, their aim being in no way to sin against the spirit of that age when the last of Petipa’s Corsaires loved, drowned and finally ended up safe and sound - the 1899 revival. Just over one hundred years later - might be a suitable title for this hazardous and one hundred percent serious romance between the Bolshoi Theatre and grand ballet. Gargantuan occasion to gorge on
Ballet is an art whose past is fragile, relying on memory rather than a secure text. Stagings had no proper choreographic scores until the mid-20th century, and dance was handed down from performer to performer with all the inaccuracies that implies. The reclaiming of a balletic history has at times seemed like the reconstruction of a dinosaur skeleton from a single bone, and as unlikely of success. Yet latterly in Russia, at the Mariinsky and Bolshoi Theatres, there has been a quest to explore a heritage by restoring celebrated productions.
Now, in Moscow, Le Corsaire has been restaged. The keys to this and similar acts of dance-piety are the notations, in Stepanov script, of the ballets given at the Mariinsky Theatre as the 19th century ended, which the rйgisseur Nikolai Sergueyev abstracted from the theatre’s archives when he fled Russia in 1918. From these scripts stem most of the classics as we know them in the west: Ninette de Valois acquired our Royal Ballet’s versions from Sergueyev in the 1930s. These "ledgers" (de Valois’ phrase) record, in varying stages of completeness, both steps and production detail, and are now held in Harvard’s great Theatre Collection. Deciphering them, adapting them to the style of today’s dancers, is a task only for the brave and those rich in resources. Nowhere better, then, than Russia, where the balletic past is honoured.
Le Corsaire was an unfailingly popular ballet throughout Europe in the 19th century. Its grandest staging was in Paris in 1856 but it soon arrived in Petersburg, was much revised, its first score by Adolphe Adam given a patchwork of interpolations. It survived, variously corrupt, in Russia, and in London we rejoice in the Mariinsky’s madcap account - by Groucho Marx out of Ali Baba. Now Alexey Ratmansky, director of the Bolshoi Ballet, and Yury Burlaka, a specialist in dance reconstruction, have made a production that seeks to show the ballet as Petipa finally transformed it in 1899. The plot may, fragmentarily, be Byronic but it is really a romp for pirates, slave girls, assorted eunuchs, and with a shipwreck to round matters spiffingly off. The score has been cleaned.
The scenery, by Boris Kaminsky, is brilliantly of-the-period in suggesting Adrianopol under Turkish rule. The costumes by Yelena Zaitseva rework those designed in 1899 and are admirable. Ratmansky and Burlaka have restored a text, recapturing much of what I sense is the Petipa manner, and filled it with dance delights. The result is fascinating, and was given on Thursday and Friday nights, when I saw it on the Bolshoi’s New Stage, with exultant zest.
Svetlana Zakharova, as the heroine Medora, was enchanting, witty and beguiling in step and manner, and she sailed with adorable grace through ferocious choreography. (At the second performance, Svetlana Lunkina was also a delight). The celebrated Jardin anime is revealed as a far longer scene than heretofore, the stage a riot of danseuses with roses in baskets, bouquets, parterres, garlands, looking exactly like the photograph in the programme of the 1899 staging.
The shipwreck is tremendous and scary, and Gennady Yanin scuttles about the stage like an anxious crab, brilliantly comic as Medora’s venal father. And the piece lasts 3ѕ hours. Even my appetite for bravura variations, and yet more variations, began to pall. It is too much of a good thing - even though the thing is very good. As a conflation of 19th century productions, it accepts 19th century taste for gargantuan evenings in the theatre, and this may prove too fatty for today’s diet-conscious public. But it is, nonetheless, an occasion to gorge on superlative dancing, fascinating choreography, and an opulent sense of theatre. The clock has been turned cunningly back.
by Clement Crisp
The Financial times, 06/25/2007