The Nutcracker (Royal Ballet Covent Garden) (1985)

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Released 20-Aug-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Ballet Menu Animation & Audio
Booklet
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1985
Running Time 99:18
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (64:22) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Peter Wright
Studio
Distributor

Warner Vision
Starring Anthony Dowell
Lesley Collier
Jonathan Cope
Michael Cole
Julie Rose
Guy Niblett
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Pyotr Tchaikovsky


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    The Nutcracker remains one of the most popular ballets, no doubt due to Tchaikovsky's fabulous score and the endearing libretto based on the fairy tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann. There are four versions of Nutcracker available in Australia, that I am aware of. The subject of this review is the earlier of two productions of the Royal Ballet filmed by the BBC. The BBC versions were also both produced by legendary choreographer Peter Wright CBE, some 11 years apart, and actually star two of the same lead male ballet dancers. This NVC Arts DVD features the earlier 1985 version produced at The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden in London and stars the fabulous Anthony Dowell as the Prince, Lesley Collier as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Jonathan Cope as the Mouse King. Interestingly, in the later 1996 version Anthony Dowell has matured into the magician / toymaker Herr Drosselmeyer, and Jonathan Cope has escaped his rodent disguise to mature as the Prince.

    The story, which varies in its detail amongst different productions, is set in Nuremburg. Herr Drosselmeyer, magician, toymaker, and inventor had, whilst previously appointed to the Royal Court, invented a trap so successful that it had wiped out half of the mouse population. In revenge, the Mouse Queen casts a spell and turns the toymaker's nephew, Hans-Peter, into a grotesque wooden doll, The Nutcracker. The only way to break the spell is for the Nutcracker to kill the Mouse King and to win the love of a fair maiden. Just before Christmas, Drosselmeyer hatches a plan to free his nephew. He is invited to a party thrown by his wealthy patrons, the Stahlbaums, and sends a gift to their daughter Clara of a magical angel to bedeck the Christmas tree.

    When Drosselmeyer arrives at the party he entertains the guests with his magical, animated mannequins and presents the Nutcracker to Clara who, under the influence of the angel, falls in love with him. When the guests have gone home and all are sound asleep, Clara is drawn to the Nutcracker, laid to rest near the Christmas tree, and is startled by a couple of hostile mice rising up through the floorboards. Drosselmeyer looms up and casts a magical spell transforming the living room into a battleground where the toy soldiers and Nutcracker come alive and do battle with the hordes of mice. During the climax of the battle the Mouse King is slain by the Nutcracker but the Nutcracker is hurt and falls to the floor mortally wounded — Clara comes to his aid; her love for the grotesque doll breaks the evil spell, and he is transformed back into the dashing young man of her dreams. After Hans-Peter is returned to his real self, Drosselmeyer sends him and Clara through the Land of Snow to the Kingdom of Sweets where the Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy put on a magnificent show to entertain the young couple. Finally we are transported back to reality in Drosselmeyer's workshop where he is re-united with his nephew.

    This is a classical and traditional production of Tchaikovsky's third and final ballet. The costumes and production are magnificent, as would be expected from Britain's premiere ballet troupe. Anthony Dowell, in particular, puts on a splendid performance as the dashing prince and carries the role with great panache and aplomb. Lesley Collier is also superb as lead ballerina, but seems to lack the enthusiasm that Dowell puts into his part. Both Drosselmeyer, played by Michael Cole, and Clara, played by Julie Rose, are somewhat restrained by this particular production, but put on a competent show. Jonathan Cope makes a great Mouse King and leaps around the stage making the most of his lanky physique - looking on at his murine visage in the later production, when he plays the Prince, I feel that he was most convincing as King Mouse!

    The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House is well known in its own right, as well as playing for the Royal Ballet and Opera at Covent Garden. On this occasion it is conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. I don't feel that this recording presents them at their best, but the performance is competent enough as a support for the ballet. In the impoverished Soviet Union, premier ballet performances are often accompanied by poor quality recordings at their ballet theatres, as I witnessed recently during a trip to the Kiev Ballet House in Ukraine, so I guess we shouldn't complain!

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is average and looking a little tired by today's standards.

    The transfer is presented in 1.33:1 format due, no doubt, to its intended viewing on television in the days before widescreen tellies and was shot on video.

    The transfer is reasonably sharp, but falls short of what could have been. Shadow detail is somewhat lacking in the reduced lighting of Drosselmeyer's workshop, or in the nocturnal battle scenes, but low level noise was pleasingly absent.

    Most Nutcracker productions are given the pink rinse by the lighting engineers and this production conforms to this practice. You can be assured that your colour balance is set right, however, by the snowflake scenes during the Journey to the Land of the Snow. The colours were a little muted and drab during the reduced lighting scenes, which reflects the performance of the CCDs of video gear of the mid-80s.

   Pixellation was endemic in the backdrops throughout the transfer (for example: 30:13) but only really irritating on the large screen or when single-stepping through the video. Posterization and aliasing were pretty well absent probably due to the lack of broad expanses of a single colour and diagonals, rather than any technical merit of the transfer. There were no film artefacts as it was shot in video and the video tape seems to have worn well.

    There are no subtitles.

    The disc is a DVD-9 RSDL with the layer transition point placed between Chapters 16 and 17 at 64:22. This occurs between the Arabian and Chinese Dances and is only noticeable if you are looking for it.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer is probably comparable to middle-of-the-road CD quality and, although adequate, falls short of today's expectations.

    There is only one audio track with  LPCM stereo as advertised on the back cover. Overall impression was of a flat 2-dimensional recording, sounding at times a little shrill on the ears and thin on detail. Lateral soundstaging was adequate and the orchestral components sounded in the right place. A certain sense of realism is imparted by the raw nature of the soundtrack, replete with coughs and shuffles, not to mention the patter of slippered feet on the stage floor. It's basically optimised for boxy, boomy TV sound systems and is probably better not played back on decent hi-fi.

    There's no spoken dialogue but the audio synch appeared to be fine.

    Well, what can I say about the music? It's fabulous and contains tuneful melodies, stirring themes, and atmospheric effects. Probably one of the most popular and most sampled pieces of classical music, you will certainly recognise many of the melodies from the numerous adverts and soundtracks that it has featured in including the recent lamentable release of Barbie cracking Ken's nuts. The score was written by Pyotr Tchaikovsky in close collaboration with the original choreographer Marius Petipa, with whom he had produced Sleeping Beauty. I have no doubt if Tchaikovsky were alive today he would be a foremost composer for film scores and one can only dream of the fun he would have had with Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    Being a humble stereo soundtrack there's no surround or subwoofer activity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Booklet

    This is a 12 page monochrome affair with 4 pages of credits and a single page synopsis by Peter Wright which is repeated in French, German, Spanish and Italian.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This is a PAL multi-region transfer covering all regions except R1. This version doesn't appear to have an R1 release.

Summary

    I really can't bring myself to complain about any ballet being made available through DVD and I am pleased to add this edition to my collection. The performance is a jolly English version which lacks the technical brilliance of the Russian ballet but is eminently watchable and certainly a great production by Covent Garden. The DVD is optimised for conventional box TV and if this is what you intend to watch it on I'm sure you'll find it very acceptable. If you're looking for a more up-to-date technical transfer you may care to try the BBC 1996 release which features anamorphic widescreen video and a superb surround soundtrack. If you're interested in seeing what 11 years does to a ballet lead dancer then I guess you'll have to buy them both! If you've succumbed to the kids demands to buy Barbie and the Nutcracker then you might put this one away for a rainy day and show them what ballet is all about.

    The video quality is average, and marred by its video-for-TV origins.

    The audio quality is somewhat flat and disappointing.

    The extras are confined to a booklet which is essential reading, for the synopsis, if you're not familiar with the ballet or storyline.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Lancaster (read my bio)
Thursday, December 26, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDEAD 8000 Pro, using RGB output
DisplayNEC MP3. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
Audio DecoderNaim AV2. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTheta Digital Intrepid
SpeakersML Aeon front. B&W LRC6 Centre. ML Script rear. REL Strata III SW.

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
2nd Royal ballet-Peter Wright "Nutcracker". -
How ignorant and rude are you? -