Shchedrin: The Seagull

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Shchedrin
LABELS: Arthuas Musik
WORKS: The Seagull
PERFORMER: Maya Plisetskaya, Alexander Bogatyrev; Bolshoi Theatre Ballet and Orchestra/Alexander Lazarev; chor. Plisetskaya (Moscow, 1980)


A ballet based on Chekhov’s The Seagull requires its audience to know the source even better than Tchaikovsky’s lyrical operatic scenes freely after Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.

Compelling prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya tells us, in a fine documentary retrospective on her 1980 Bolshoi choreography for which she took the role of Nina/Seagull, how she pleased the theatre critics while the ballet doyens stayed away. I wonder.

The opening scene isn’t promising: a group of 19th-century country gentry doing their own thing in slow motion against the doomy first of 24 orchestral preludes by Plisetskaya’s distinguished husband, Rodion Shchedrin, and trenchantly conducted by Alexander Lazarev (who takes no bow at the end).

The minor characters make no impact, while Arkadina, Trigorin and Masha are mere mannerist ciphers. Plisetskaya casts herself as the younger woman, striking in the dumb show of the modernist play and rising to the raison d’être of the ballet, an anguished Pas de deux, enriched by compelling facial expressions, with Alexander Bogatyrev’s rejected Konstantin.

Bogatyrev’s bouts of despair do mesh with the music. But Shchedrin’s score is too overwrought too often, alternating between stridency – including seagull wails to Plisetskaya’s ingeniously bobbing nature-double – and woodwind-dominated impressionism in need of strong ideas.

I liked the crazy scherzo interludes depicting the crowd’s disapproval at the 1896 premiere; here Plisetskaya gets her corps to ape Meyerhold’s celebrated 1926 production of Gogol’s Government Inspector.


The floral curtain calls are a little drama in themselves. But otherwise, admirable though it was that such a thing happened at the conservative Bolshoi in Soviet days, there’s too little going on, dancewise or even mimewise, to sustain the action. David Nice