For Prokofiev, the boundary between film music and art music was slight, and he often reused material from his film scores in his other compositions (and vice versa). The performance reviewed here continues in this tradition by bringing Prokofievís score for Ivan the Terrible to the ballet stage. Composer Abram Stassevich first raised the idea for such an adaptation in the late 1950s when the brief Khrushchev thaw opened the door for the release of part two of Ivan and a wider appreciation of Prokofievís music. The project was never realized in Stassevichís lifetimeóhe instead chose to arrange a concert version of the score. It was not until the early 1970s that composer Mikhail Chulaki and choreographer Yuri Grigorovichóboth top figures at Moscowís Bolshoi Theaterórevived Stassevichís original plan and produced the ballet version featured on this DVD. But Prokofiev purists beware: the Ivan ballet is far from a direct adaptation to the stage. Chulaki grafted segments of his own music to a significantly rearranged version of Prokofievís score, resulting in a work that only partially resembles the original Ivan. Aficionados of Prokofievís music will also recognize material from his other works embedded in the ballet, among them the Third Symphony and the Russian Overture (op.72). Grigorovich makes a similar departure from the original Ivan in his scenario, which puts the focus squarely on Ivanís troubled place between Western rational action and Eastern mysticism and destructiveness. It is perhaps fitting that this adaptation of Ivan celebrates the ambiguities and uncertainties of the infamous tsarís reign: the portrayal of uncertainties in Ivanís character was one of the chief reasons Eisensteinís original film encountered such difficulties with the Soviet authorities. Stalinís identification with Ivan was well known, and, as such, any negative portrayal of the latter was heresy.
The fact that this ballet version of Ivan is not vintage Prokofiev or Eisenstein certainly should not detract from its interest. The Ivan the Terrible ballet represents a not only an attractive adaptation of Prokofievís work, but an example of the Soviet ballet tradition under the direction of one of its foremost choreographers, Mikhail Grigorovich. Grigorovich worked as the head ballet master at the Bolshoi from 1964 until 1995, during which time he became one of the major figures in Soviet ballet, receiving the prestigious Order of Lenin in 1976 for his work. Moreover, his tutelage guided several generations of dancers in the Soviet Union and played a role in creating and maintaining the distinctive arch-classical style of Russian dance in the twentieth century.
The dancing in this 1990 recording done at the Bolshoi is first-rate: the lead roles are given outstanding performances by two of the Bolshoiís veteran dancers, Natalya Bessmertnova and Irek Mukhamedov. The sound quality of the recording lacks some depth and color, but the visual aspects more than make up for this (although the camera angle is rather static and there are few close-ups of the stage). The orchestral playing is a bit ragged at timesóespecially in the windsóbut this does not detract substantially from this superb performance.
Kevin Michael Bartig
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
image_description: Ivan the Terrible
product_title= Sergei Prokofiev: Ivan the Terrible
product_by=Irek Mukhamedov, dancer / Natalya Bessmertnova, dancer / Gedminas Taranda, dancer / Yuri Grigorovich, choreographer. Bolshoi Theatre Children’s Choir. Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. Bolshoi Ballet. Algis Zhuraitis, conductor.
product_id=Arthaus Musik 101107 [DVD]