In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

DR. VON LYRIC: The Camellias Never Fade

Oct 15, 2014 5:16:00 PM
By BLO Staff

When Sir Frederick Ashton's one-act ballet (set to the D minor piano sonata by Franz Liszt) Marguerite and Armand was premiered in 1963, it was the center of intense interest, not only from the ballet world, but also from the somewhat prurient curiosities of a celebrity culture. Could the plot of the ballet reflect the off-stage realities of the situation between Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn?..."Hot young (25) stud melts the older (44) frigid snow queen prima ballerina," etc., etc. By all accounts Fonteyn gave a performance of perhaps unaccustomed emotional ardor equaled in intensity by Nureyev's almost blatant sexuality, and the piece became a potent signature of their partnership. It was not performed for awhile after her death in 1991 (Nureyev died in 1993), but it has been recently revived with other dancers.


The familiar story was also translated into dance by John Neumeier for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1978 as a full-length ballet using the music of Chopin. A significant version was produced for the Paris Opera Ballet with compelling performances by Agnès Letestu and Stéphane Bullion. The piece is not without its elements of kitsch and overblown and over-articulated emotion, but the love duets do work up considerable intensity and sexiness.


And then there is Camille and Greta Garbo. If somehow you have never seen it, seek it out. Robert Taylor takes some adjusting to, but Garbo is sublime.

Here is a bit of Sarah Bernhardt in the death scene (at 42 seconds on in the film clip).

Dimly lit, distant, often out of focus, questionable sound, but a least a rare peek at Callas on stage as Violetta (with Alfredo Kraus), Lisbon 1958.

And at last, a look at La Traviata in its place in the seemingly inevitable final repository and apotheosis of culture in this country - the ice show!

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