Antonio Pappano ventures rarely into the repertoire of the Royal Ballet, for the same reasons that most maestros avoid the art form. On 16 October, the last night of the latest Royal Ballet – Triple Bill, Pappano’s contribution in the pit revealed this to be a terrible loss. If the Orchestra of the Royal Opera seemed on auto-pilot in the Stravinsky concerto, suffice to say that a bad day under the Music Director is a good day under most others.
In the lush orchestration of the Poulenc, all sections relaxed into their roles and exhilarated in their shining accompaniment. A lurching trombone and some poor woodwind intonation in the Janácek let the performance down slightly, but no matter. Climaxes roared without descending into Cecil B de Mille overstatement, while rhythms were crisp and ideally weighted. If it takes a selection of obscure works to lure Pappano, let us hope for many more such bills.
To programme three plotless works on a bare stage is daring – more so to have it open the season – and while Director Monica Mason must be credited for having the confidence in her company to do so, the success of the final performance was only in moderation.
The playing of solo violinist Vasko Vassilev in the Stravinsky Violin Concerto was the first problem. His role is thankless – stuck down in the pit, unseen by most in the audience – but he seemed to underplay the virtuosity of the part. Pappano toned down his conducting to match and the result was a damp sound that barely supported the dancing. Elsewhere, throughout the evening, the minimal sets and simplistic costumes created a void at the centre of the works where there should have been warmth.
The dancing itself was at least good. Zenaida Yanowsky‘s frame seemed awkwardly deployed in Balanchine’s alert choreography, but the ease of her partner, David Makhateli compensated. Ansanelli and Samodurov meanwhile provided bold, inviting movement that suited the dramatic needs of the work perfectly.
Tetley’s Voluntaries (set to the occasionally inspired score by Poulenc) created a hush around the house, not partly down to the superb partnership of Marianela Nuñez and Jason Reilly. And Kylián’s Sinfonietta showcased just how sharp the Royal Ballet corps is looking, with its colourful expression and ever-improving synchronisation. The piece may be overcooked, but it looked great in this instance.
So, with good dancing and good playing, the programme suffered most from an absence of variation. The merits of each piece were clear, but put together, they lacked coherence. Nevertheless, the cheer for Tony Pappano confirmed that I am not the only one who would like to see him back in this repertoire.