Thursday 22 March 2018

Coming to a cinema near you . . . a pas de deux for swashbucklers

George Gordon Noel Byron (1788 - 1824)
George Gordon Noel Byron (1788 - 1824)

George Hamilton

If you can't make it to the Met or call in on Covent Garden, you've had a handy substitute for the Opera House experience for some time now, as live transmissions have brought singing's big stars to a cinema near you.

Since the Metropolitan Opera in New York blazed a trail seven years ago, they reach audiences in the millions around the world each season and now reach over 1,600 venues in more than 60 countries.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is now doing it too, broadcasting to cinemas across the globe live from Stratford, the Bard's home town. And if dance is your thing, in two weeks' time, 14 venues across the island, from Lisburn to Letterkenny, and Sligo to Cork, will feature the Bolshoi Ballet in all its glory on its home stage in Moscow with Le Corsaire. (Full details on

Le Corsaire (The Pirate) is eye-catching in every sense of the word. From the moment the curtains part to reveal a fabulously sunlit bazaar square, you're in a magical world of lavishly costumed slave girls, dazzling dancing, and a breathtaking shipwreck that's a modern miracle of staging – and that's without even considering the music that makes it flow. Le Corsaire was originally scored by a Frenchman, Adolphe Adam, and was first presented on the Paris stage in 1856. It's an elaborate story, loosely based on a poem by Byron, with a love interest – the pirate and the slave girls from the harem – at its heart.

The word swashbuckling could have been invented for this ballet. The set-pieces are spectacular, in particular the male dancing, which is among some of the most magnificent you'll ever see.

And like the great operas, it's provided several stand-out sequences that are often showcased as concert performances on their own, the most celebrated being the 'Pas de Deux', one of ballet's most famous set pieces. Much like his earlier and most famous ballet, Giselle, the music – coming from one of the foremost tunesmiths of the time – sweeps along lusciously, the perfect accompaniment to the visual extravaganza.

Interestingly, though, not everything you hear in a performance of Le Corsaire now is all his own work. Many composers have added melodies to the piece. The Bolshoi's credits include the names of six others, among them Adam's pupil Léo Delibes, whose Coppélia is one of the staples of the ballet repertoire.

Aside from Le Corsaire, there'll be something else of Adolphe Adam's readily available over the coming weeks.

The 'Cantique de Noël' – a song for Christmas that was initially put together for the festivities in a rural parish in the south of France – had words by a local wine merchant who knew a friend of a friend who could put it to music.

That friend of a friend was Adolphe Adam, and the 'Cantique de Noël' is one of the season's most popular songs – 'O Holy Night'.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday.

Irish Independent

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