If you ask me 2 of the best neo-classical ballet productions that came out in blu-ray in 2009 would be Frederick Ashton's whimsical version of Herold's La Fille Mal Gardee with Carlos ACosta and Marianela Nunez, and this wonderful Lady of the Camelias disc with the stars of the Paris Opera Ballet. Completely different in character they nevertheless represent the cream of last year's crop.
The tale of a French courtesan,torn between amour of the professional kind and personal love, withs its inevitable tragic ending has been made well known in opera by Massenet and Puccini( Manon Lescaut) and Verdi (La Traviata). Indeed Verdi wrote the story of his famous work after attending Dumas' play La Dame Aux Camelias, so we know who begot what. Now, along comes John Neumeier's creation of a full length narrative ballet based on Dumas's play using the piano music of Chopin, and what a tour de force this is.
First off, the choreography is astounding. And the famous stars of the the Paris Opera Ballet do it full justice, with flawless dancing that will take your breath away. Agnes Letestu shows why she is so highly regarded in the rarefied world of the ballet etoile with a stunning performance here as Marguerite Gautier, the famous courtesan. Her male partner Stephane Bullion, whose smoldering looks would set more than a few female hearts palpitating,is equally brilliant and their riveting pas de deux in Acts 2 and 3 can only be described as ravishing. In equal parts tender, passionate and even erotic, and set to the slow movement of Chopin's Opus 58 piano sonata in B flat minor, these are magical performances you would want to watch and re-watch. Noteworthy too is Dorothee Gilbert, whose beauty and grace make a deep impression. The sets are interesting, the costumes beautiful and the dancing by the corps de ballet excellent and especially in the Country scene exuberant and memorable. If you are like me (so used to lavish orchestral scores for ballet), you may wonder whether a sparse piano solo, even if it is Chopin, would really 'do' for a full length dance drama, but have no fear, it works very well with the wonderful choreography. So there you have it. Five stars , nothing less.