Henze: Ondine

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Henze
LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: Ondine
PERFORMER: Miyako Yoshida, Edward Watson, Genesia Rosato, Ricardo Cervera; Royal Ballet; Royal Opera House Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth; chor. Frederick Ashton (London, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1030 D

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Frederick Ashton and Hans Werner Henze made unlikely bedfellows when Ondine was first staged in 1958. Even then the conventional presentation must have seemed to sit strangely alongside the hard-working score.

De la Motte Fouqué’s fairy-tale of the water-nymph who comes into fatal contact with an all too earthy prince has been fair game for ballet since the mid-19th century (Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake derives from it via a discarded opera on this very subject). Ashton’s genius surfaces in supple arm movements and rippling footwork for his heroine.

The petite, wide-eyed Miyako Yoshida makes an ideal sprite for those of us who never saw Margot Fonteyn in action. The other roles offer slim pickings, though Edward Watson wavers convincingly and veteran Genesia Rosato, though I first mistook her for the prince’s mother, has haughty authority as Ondine’s scheming love-rival. 

Why, though, didn’t the Royal Ballet give the production a scenic overhaul for its 1988 revival? Lila de Nobili achieved wonders in 1958 with the movement of waves, but her costumes must have seemed hideous even then. The whole thing, with its choreographically tame Act III divertissement, is often at odds with Henze’s rather forgettable score.

That’s full of his usual instrumental contrasts, with striking roles for harp, guitar and piano, but over-reliant on Stravinsky’s Scènes de ballet, Petrushka and Symphony in Three Movements, and short on striking ideas.

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Barry Wordsworth and the Royal Opera House Orchestra seem totally committed, though, and the Opus Arte presentation is as flawless as all its previous Royal Ballet releases. The extra gives us Henze in detailed interview but, alas, no footage of Fonteyn. David Nice