For decades I have been longing to see Léo Delibes´ "Sylvia" live; it finally occurred and I am happy that the prolonged debt of the Teatro Colón with this famous XIXth century ballet has been settled. Lidia Segni programmed and Maximiliano Guerra respected the idea of presenting Frederick Ashton´s choreography with the beautiful costumes and stage designs of the 1952 London revival imagined by Christopher and Robin Ironside.
There were just two first-rate ballet composers in the second half of the Nineteenth Century: Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky and Léo Delibes. The latter wrote two long ballets: "Coppélia" (1870 and "Sylvia" (1876); the first has remained an evergreen, but "Sylvia" has had a checkered history choreographically.
Delibes also wrote "La Source" or "Naïla", with Minkus (1866), and a "Pas des fleurs" (1867) intercalated in Adam´s "Le Corsaire"; this has been seen at the Colón.
"Sylvia, ou La Nymphe de Diane" ("Sylvia, or Diana´s nymph") is the full title of this three-act ballet with a duration of about one hour and forty minutes. The scenario by Jules Barbier and the Baron de Reinach is based on Torquato Tasso´s "Aminta" (1573), a pastoral drama, and the original choreography was by Joseph Mérante. It was presented at the Paris Opéra
In fact the music was more appreciated than Mérante´s work; he was the successor of Saint-Léon but was less talented; however, he created an attractive role for the "prima ballerina" Rita Sangalli, though the bland pastoral story didn´t attract like that of "Coppélia". It is curious in a way, for even Diaghilev insisted on such themes, witness Ravel´s "Daphnis et Chloë".
Few later choreographies for "Sylvia" showed staying power, but three must be mentioned: the Neoclassic Serge Lifar in 1941, Ashton´s, and John Neumeier´s staged at the Paris Opéra of which there´s a DVD. I own the latter and frankly I don´t like it, although of course this famous choreographer does have some interesting ideas. But "Sylvia" is essentially "naïf", as Ashton sees it (and he was right), and sylvan, to play with words (she is indeed a dryad, a wood nymph). Neumeier gives us too much modern sophistication and little open-air feeling.
I have the sneaking half-memory that somewhere I´ve read about a 1940s première at the Colón, maybe of the Lifar, but I can´t swear to it. The hand programme only publishes considerations by Anthony Russell-Roberts on Ashton (the writer is his nephew) and his relationship with his Sylvia, Margot Fonteyn. If the Colón indeed has offered it before, it isn´t serious not to mention it.
And now to the performance I saw: it was the fourth of six and a non- subscription night; although there´s no mention of it in the programme, I was told that it was a special event for the Banco Ciudad, which may explain the impression I had of a different sort of audience, less fanatic than usual.
I was angry, when details were announced about the casting with three Sylvias and two Amintas, that no explanation was given about the absence of the great Spanish ballerina Alicia Amatriain, mentioned in the booklet where the whole season of the Colón was published in March. We need fine foreign dancers as guests of the Colón Ballet, the same way that we have artists from abroad in the opera season.
The 1952 première of Ashton´s classic choreography was revived at Covent Garden in a reconstruction by Christopher Newton in 2004; it was a coproduction with the American Ballet Theatre that kept the Ironside designs inspired by Claude Lorrain and was also seen in New York, Berlin, Tokyo, Rome and Saint Petersburg, and it is very handsome indeed. In fact, a beautiful show in the proper style with additional designs by Peter Farmer and lighting by Mark Jonathan (here revised by Rubén Conde), a pleasure to see with no intrusive modernisms.
Ashton defined the plot thus: "boy wants girl, girl is captured by bad guy, girl comes back to the boy through the god´s intervention (Eros)". Plus Diana, who kills the bad guy and allows Sylvia to love Aminta. There are plenty of members of the Corps de Ballet; in the First Act, Hunters, Naiads, Dryads, Sylvans, Fauns and Peasants; in the Second, Concubines and Slaves; in the Third, Gods, Muses, Goats, assistants of Sylvia and Diana, groups of Spring and Summer, Heralds, and the vision of Diana and Endymion.
It was announced that the scheduled Aminta, soloist Fabrizio Coppo, would be taken by First Dancer Federico Fernández, and there were some other minor changes. I wasn´t surprised by the assured and handsome dancing of Fernández, but I was agreeably impressed by a new young dancer as Sylvia: Macarena Giménez. Long-legged, well-trained and personable, she gave relief to her nymph.
Susan Jones, from the American Ballet Theater, was in charge of the revival and obviously knows her job: the general standard was quite good, important for there are many ensembles. Dalmiro Astesiano as the hunter Orion, Nahuel Prozzi as Eros (immobile as a statue for many minutes) and Paula Cassano (Diana) all did well. Luciana Barrirero and Jiva Velázquez as the Goats and Martín Vedia and Velázquez as the Slaves (doing an Ethiopian Dance) gave an exotic touch to the staging.
Finally, Emmanuel Siffert conducted a reasonably good performance with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic.
For Buenos Aires Herald