By Norm Robins
The Bolshoi Ballet kicks off its 2019/20 season with their storied production of Raymonda. First performed at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg on January 19, 1898, it was choreographed by the legendary Marius Petipa for the Russian Imperial Ballet set to the stirring music of Alexander Glazunov.
But the person most associated with it is Rudolph Nureyev. In 1959 he danced the role of a knight in the debut of his professional career. After his stunning defection from the former Soviet Union he became a choreographer himself. His first Raymonda premiered on July 10, 1964 with the Royal Ballet Touring Company. His quest for perfection led him to revise it again for the Australian Ballet in 1965, the Zurich Opera Ballet in 1972, the American Ballet Theater in 1975, and finally the Paris opera.
The ballet takes place in France during the Crusades. Knight Jean de Brienne has come to the Doris Castle to bid farewell to his betrothed Raymonda before leaving on a Crusade led by the Andrei II, King of Hungary. Raymonda dreams she is dancing with de Brienne. The dance is beautiful, and Glazunov’s music is beautiful, even rhapsodic, to match it. The corps de ballet dances an interlude, and some principal dancers perform solo pieces, and then an ensemble dance, and so on. And then the dream turns into a nightmare. An Eastern knight appears and passionately declares his love for her, a love that is unwanted and unwelcome. She is trapped. Upon awakening she takes this to be an omen and not a good one.
Later, a festival is held at the Doris Castle. There is a Saracen knight among the guests, Abderakhman. He is the Eastern knight in her nightmare. He declares his love for her. She rejects him. In a fit of anger he tries to abduct her. Suddenly and magically knights appear returning from their crusade. De Brienne is one of them. King Andrei II is with them. He suggests De Brienne and Abderakhman settle their differences one on one, mano a mano. A fight ensues, and de Brienne wins. The lovers are reunited. The wedding festivities begin and are concluded with a splashy, energetic Hungarian dance and lots of celebration.
Glazunov’s score is magnificent. It is full of danger when danger is afoot, and full of life, verve, and joie de vivre when called for by the libretto. It is always dance music and never symphonic. It always demands your attention.
Raymonda will be telecast from Moscow on October 27, 2019, and shown at the Riverside 12 and Summit Sierra theaters. The curtain is at 12:55 PM, and the run time is 3 hours.