The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House
The Nutcracker, with its iconic score, characters and choreography, is something of an enigma. Its strangeness raises many questions: why does the second half relate so little to the first? Who is the prima ballerina: Clara or the Sugar Plum Fairy? Why is there no established conclusion in the real world?
For these reasons and more, the ballet’s first audience generally dismissed it as a work for children with no plot and no substance. It was only under later revivals that the piece became a firm favourite, closely associated with the magic of Christmas. Today, its popularity partly derives from the very mysteriousness that baffled its original spectators. The dream world of the second half is escapism at its very best, instilling an Alice in Wonderland sense of enchantment.
Peter Wright’s current Royal Ballet production is the perfect combination of believable and fantastical. By turning Drosselmeyer the toymaker into a magician, the director suggests an undercurrent of trickery from the very beginning, helping to fuse the disparate first and second parts. The whole ballet, Wright implies, is a masterful piece of puppetry theatre of Drosselmeyer’s invention, from the automaton dancers who entertain the party guests in Act I to the wonderful world of fighting mice and dancing sweets in Act II, which Clara (and implicitly, the audience) have to shrink to access.
The shrinking trick is achieved through the Christmas tree appearing to grow magically until the presents at its base are taller than the dancers. The programme notes are full of stories about episodes in previous productions when this has gone wrong due to electrical faults or mechanical problems, but with the Opera House’s recently renovated stage, the whole production is now as slick as could be imagined.
Making nearly impossible acts look effortlessly easy is key to the success of any ballet, and to The Nutcracker in particular; this interpretation pulls it off perfectly, from complex sets and seamless special effects to dazzling lifts, leaps and holds by the dancers. With beautifully detailed costumes and an animated and faithful rendition of Tchaikovsky’s score, the Royal Ballet has produced a masterpiece infused with Christmas magic.
Photo: Alistair Muir
The Nutcracker is at the Royal Opera House from 3rd December until 15th January 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.