The Winter’s Tale
Royal Opera House
Tuesday, 13th February 2018
The Winter’s Tale – 02/13/2018
Leontes: Ryoichi Hirano
Hermione: Lauren Cuthbertson
Perdita: Sarah Lamb
Florizel: Vadim Muntagirov
Paulina: Laura Morera
Polixenes: Matthew Ball
Father Shepherd: Gary Avis
Brother Clown: Marcelino Sambé
Young Shepherdess: Beatriz Stix-Brunell
And after having been a slave to the dvd for four years, I’ve finally seen The Winter’s Tale!
If I’m being honest, I actually booked my ticket for yesterday night (and for the 28th’s cinema relay) to see Edward Watson along with Lauren Cuthbertson and Steven McRae along with Sarah Lamb, and I was a bit disappointed in the cast changes last week, but it’s been yet another magnificent and moving show by the Royal Ballet.
As usual, Christopher Wheeldon has proved to be a genius: The Winter’s Tale is very Alice-like for mesmerising designs and score, so theatrical and whimsical, but at the same time it conveys a completely different emotional experience. Mixing tragedy, drama, pastoral and romantic scenes, by following Shakespeare’s plot in a play with time and space, it is an absolute triumph.
Wheeldon abounds with clever fine points using colours to stress the bonds and stories behind his characters (like green and red nuances for the two kings, purple costumes for Hermione and Perdita, and the green lighting to convey Leontes’ jealousy)and adding striking particulars (the teddy bear dying Mamillius is holding tight) – the sets are all amazing, but the winner is that huge and fabulous green tree on the hillside in Bohemia, and the thrilling peasant scene happening behind there is glorious and beautifully coloured.
In the Prologue Leontes, King of Sicilia, and Polixenes, King of Bohemia, are reunited after having been separated as children – the pas de quatre they dance alongside Hermione, Queen of Sicilia, and baby Mamillius (Leontes and Hermione’s son) provides a lucid storytelling narrating their reunion and friendship, Leontes and Hermione’s love and her pregnancy.
Matthew Ball acted as a great Polixenes, showing off both technique and play flairs, but Rio’s performance as Leontes was not as good as Ed’s. He was fine, but I couldn’t feel the emotional distress Ed conveyed even on dvd: I reckon stepping into his shoes in a role which he created has to be a great challenge, and he handled the show with dignity, albeit with a too grotesque interpretation when he was mad with jealousy – it surely was striking but I couldn’t understand whether it was too forced or not.
In spite of this, I thought the contrast between his character and Lauren’s stunningly touching Hermione was amazingly dramatic whilst Leontes becomes convinced that his wife has been unfaithful and is carrying Polixenes’ child, publicly accuses her of adultery and treason and has her arrested.
Indeed, she was absolutely divine in her created role, so graceful in the heartbreaking trial solo, when after giving birth to a daughter in prison, she pleads her innocence. There in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the gloomy court of Sicilia, Lauren gave such a psychological and emotional performance, conveying all the distress after her baby is rejected by Leontes, who orders it to be abandoned in a remote place.
The moment when a distraught Mamillius falls seriously ill and dies was very poignant, with Rio holding the child, the teddy bear lying on stage, and Hermione’s heartbroken death – these events make Leontes realise the consequences of his mistake.
Then, Zenaida’s farewell led Laura Morera to dance as Paulina: the role itself suits her, but this is certainly not the case of her costumes, so long and so unflattering on her short figure.
The second act takes place sixteen years later on the shores of Bohemia, after a shepherd and his son Clown had discovered the baby girl Perdita (and the treasure left with her) at the end of the first one.
Gary Avis was an energetic and involving Father Shepherd and it’s been amazing to see Marcelino Sambé back on stage after a six months absence, on fire as Brother Clown.
Act 2 was such a joy, with all those shepherds’ dances for the springtime festival, led by Marcelino and a delightful Beatriz Stix-Brunell as the Young Shepherdess (can’t wait to see her as Perdita tomorrow night).
The act’s setting was stunning with the wishing tree decorated with ribbons and jewels beneath which a smiling Sarah Lamb dances as a dashingly great Perdita with her love, Prince Florizel (the son of Polixenes, whom the other villagers know only as a shepherd boy).
Vadim was impeccable as Florizel with his usual amazing technique, but I felt like he was too elegant for such a role.
The array of lovely events was engaging and uplifting, culminating in Perdita’s coronation as May Queen, Father Shepherd presenting her with the emerald necklace (the one he found with her sixteen years before, belonged to Hermione) and Florizel and Perdita’s engagement – in revealing himself as an enraged King Polixenes, previously disguised to spy on his son, Matthew Ball showed remarkable a acting, furious with Florizel for his engagement to a shepherdess and condemning Perdita and her family to death, forcing them to flee by boat to Sicilia.
Act 3 brings us back to the pillars and marble statues of Sicilia’s palace, where Leontes is still grieving on a clifftop.
There, Perdita and Florizel beg to Leontes to allow their union and he agrees to help the young couple. After a Polixenes’ violent arrival, Perdita’s emerald necklace is revealed and Paulina recognises her as the long lost Princess of Sicilia. This (obviously, she’s a princess, no reason for his son not to marry her) changes Polixenes’ mind, the two kings are reunited in friendship and celebrate the wedding of Florizel and Perdita. Following the wedding, Paulina shows remorseful Leontes a new statue of Hermione, which comes to life as she’d saved her and kept hidden her for sixteen years.
Despite Rio’s rough edges in act 1, act 3 pas de deux was wonderfully moving with the tenderness of Rio and Lauren’s closing scene, when she embraces Leontes and the family is reunited.
So, that’s quite a bunch of events, but Wheeldon’s powerful storytelling draws a wonderfully clear timeline, and even though there were significant missing roles from the original cast, it’s been an excellent performance.
Great and energetic conductress debut by Alondra de la Parra as well, leading an amazing orchestra.
It’s been a magical night and I got out of the ROH feeling like I could watch it forever… tomorrow’s Marianela and Thiago bound plus this same cast on February 28th is surely a good starting point!