This was again a white swan which in some ways failed to take full, tragic flight. Natalia Osipova’s Odette did not fully convince me that she was in distress of despair at finding herself imprisoned, doomed by curse. Instead, there was as with last time, some kind of detachment in the performance. This was dancing (not acting, mind) which lost the emotional thread, even though the performer herself may have been lost (or rather, fully invested) in the role.
The result was that Osipova’s Odette came (as before) to resemble something of a simulacra, where she seems to be going through the proper motions, each step admittedly highly polished and well executed, yet without fully connecting with the role itself or we as an audience. Discussion with a friend resulted in conclusion that she has probably had too much Ratmanksy and too little “classical roles” in her early career, my own further conclusion was that as a result, the classic roles -especially the “adagio” ones like Odette – don’t suit her. To my mind her strengths lie in a bravura register, either bravura of psychology (eg Giselle) or choreography (Flames of Paris) or both (Onegin here, or my thoughts, here). Odette is a creature too distant for Osipova to fully grasp.
That Odette slightly eludes her came into even more focus given the performance the night before this show, where I saw Evegenia Obraztsova as Odile/Odette. Comparisons are of course invidious, yet illustrative. In light of that performance Osipova’s phrasing seemed a little unmoored from exactitude: her dancing was technically fine – moreso than Obraztsova’s even – yet it didn’t seem to fully tie in with the music as it unfolded. On the surface, she has elegance and grace one would hope for, yet there was an incongruence between “text” and music, things almost seeming “out of sync”.
If her Odette fell short a little, then she went someway to making up for it with an Odile blazing with allure: her comfort with the choreographic direction and indeed the vocabulary itself freeing her to pull out the stops. There was this time no applause for her chaine turns, but most definitely clamour and acclaim for those dazzling fouettes. prosaic to describe but thrilling to watch. The pace astonishing, and seeming to cost little effort.
Act III then, was a success for Osipova, and given Act II’s presentation, I wondered if Act IV would show us again her odd Odette. Not so.
To my mind (and certainly in the Royal Opera House’s current treatment of the ballet) this act sees the accent falls upon any Odette’s acting skills, and Osipova’s acting skills are strong. To seal the emotional deal, the scene demands a measure of pathos, the dancer must appear once more as that winsome, vulnerable and pure being with whom Siegfried fell in love with. Osipova gave it her imprimatur, the focus on acting playing to her strengths. This was the strongest Act. Her Odette became what she should have been from the start. Mime was well done, the narrative crisp, the emotion fully present and keenly drawn, Odette’s pledge to die dramatic and in execution affecting. It just all worked better.
In conclusion: she got better as she went along, but I wish she had been as good as she was in Act IV from the start.
Siegfried himself (Matthew Golding) continues to impress. In acting, believable: emotions and pain register with intensity all the way to the back of the house. In terms of dancing, as previously enumerated: nobility of line, ease of execution, a whole package delivering satisfaction, and indeed, thrills. For his criminally small presence in Act I (a small solo in the waltz, Siegfried’s traditional variation sadly omitted in this production) my heart rate increased, thrilling at each jump and turn. One senses that Golding is precisely the showboat that his Siegfried comes across as. There is a fierce ardency which finds sharp expression in both his body and spirit. He is a worthy, doomed Prince, the arc of his involvement successful. So much so, that for the first time, I shed a tear when he jumped off the cliff to his death. Even that single split second of Fate became beautiful to see.
The Swan Corps were almost of one mind in unison, lines and group movement especially slick. I think they have definitely improved. I am sad to report that this is Gary Avis‘ last von Rothbart, and sadder still to report that he got “panto-booed”. An inauspicious end to a peerless interpretation of this character.
I may well attend my Encore cinema screening at The Riverside. I would go to the Encore for Golding, and with an open mind for Osipova. For anyone else, just go!
(many many more are very praising!)
Natalia Osipova ROH website
Matthew Golding official website
Gary Avis official website
Royal Opera House Swan Lake bookings
*A small foible of mine had been changed though. At the end of act II’s pas des deux, no hand flick to the final pizzicato, which had been included last time, and by Nunez. Obraztsova also omitted this.
I would like to thank @attilalondon for suggesting the above to me, that Osipova might have been denied classical roles in the Bolshoi.