Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (Kirov Theatre), Leningrad
Vladimir Chenanov, Leonid Yakobson, Vasili Vainomen, choreographer / Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet / Alexander Gauk
Full-length ballet on a scenario by Alexander Ivanovsky
Shostakovich’s first ballet is an outrageously energetic and sharply satirical take on the cultural and political uproar in Europe and the Soviet Union in the late 1920s. Written in the wake of the composer’s exciting first trip abroad to Weimar Germany, and his scintillating encounters with jazz, cabaret and the music of young contemporaries like Kurt Weill, the score fizzes along like a comedy-thriller by Chaplin or Buster Keaton. The original and somewhat scandalous choreography was by Vladimir Chesnakov, Leonid Yakobson and Vasili Vainonen.
Ivanovsky’s improbable plot concerns the adventures of a Soviet football team in a corrupt Western city (presumably Berlin). Subjected to every kind of wicked temptation (financial, moral and political) from a whole gallery of politically incorrect bad characters (the Diva, the Fascist, the Agent Provocateur, the Negro and others) our noble Soviet sportsmen find themselves the unhappy victims of match-rigging, police harassment and, finally, unjust imprisonment by the evil bourgeoisie (fat cigar-chomping bankers and their snobbish molls). The Soviets are only released from gaol by a courageous uprising on the part of the local working classes who triumphantly overthrow the wicked capitalists and join their Soviet guests in an eruptive Dance of Solidarity.
Among the self-contained scenes in this ballet which make fine concert sequences on their own are Scene 4 - The Football Match – (perhaps the only depiction of such a match in classical music), Scene 5 – The Music Hall – (a delightful series of dances including a Tap-dance, a Tango, a Polka and a Can-can) and the final Revolution Scene, which contains some of Shostakovich’s most daring and experimental orchestral music. There is also an Orchestral Suite, op.22a, compiled by the composer.
Note by Gerard McBurney