Tuesday,  Sep 25, 2018,23:36 (GMT+7) 0 0
An awesome Nutcracker once again
Bradley Winterton
Tuesday,  Dec 12, 2017,18:37 (GMT+7)

An awesome Nutcracker once again

Bradley Winterton

A scene in The Nutcracker ballet staged by HBSO from December 8 to 10 - PHOTO: TRAN HOANG SON

There are many reasons why Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker makes such a compelling entertainment. There’s the Christmas element, of course, a Christmas Eve party followed by a scene in a veritable winter wonderland. Then there’s the color and the exoticism – dances from supposedly distant lands and flights of imagination among falling snowflakes. Variety, too, plays its part, with social party dances alternating with mythic figures out of a land of dreams. All these add up to making Nutcracker an unfailing attraction worldwide.

This is the seventh time the classic ballet has been staged by HBSO in Saigon. There were three performances, and each one was sold out. Last Friday I couldn’t see an empty seat anywhere.

It’s hard to say which scene was best. My feeling was that each one was better than the one before. Even so, it would be hard to beat the second, the wintry pine forest with glittering snow falling very realistically (snow really does fall slowly), female dancers flitting to and fro in the white light, and the HBSO Female Choir singing hauntingly in the stage boxes. Here was theatrical magic indeed.

As for the great pas de deux, the ballet’s climax, it was danced this time with more Romantic feeling, even at times frivolity, in contrast to the beautiful classical severity of former years. Even so, Naoki Tomikawa (soloist of the Noriko Kobayashi Ballet Theatre) stood out, both in the duo itself and in his solo dance afterwards. To my eyes, he was the star of the evening.

But Tran Hoang Yen as his Sugarplum Fairy also caught and held the eye, as did various other soloists such as Ho Phi Diep as the Nutcracker Prince and Pham The Phuong as the Rat King.

This production highlighted the virtues of HBSO in general. They really seem these days to be able to put their hands to anything, and to succeed with everything they touch. The orchestra, for example, was in top form, more vigorous than sometimes previously, and as distinctive with the celesta as with the ever-glorious horns and trombones. All this was under the baton of Magnus Loddgard, here from his native Norway for the three evenings.

And praise once again must go to Johanna Jakhelin Constant who created this production in the first place all those years ago. She was also responsible for the excellent lighting, assisted by Nguyen Phuc Hai.

There may not have been a red-nosed reindeer or a kitsch Santa, but heaven be praised for that. This was another kind of Christmas, an older one, even though aspects of it were no doubt novel in their day. Its color and its variety are what keep it alive, and I’ll be very surprised indeed if we don’t see it grace the Saigon Opera House stage once again next December.

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