Synopsis (pay attention, this is long and complicated!):
A crowd of Turks, Greeks and Armenians throng a square where slaves girls are for sale. A band of pirates appears, led by Conrad. Medora, the ward of Lankendem, throws a bouquet to Conrad, who realises she loves him. The Pasha arrives to buy slaves but none please him. He sees Medora and wants her but Lankendem says that she is not for sale. But the Pasha is determined and offers a price that Lankendem is unable to resist. The Pasha orders Medora be bought to his harem; she is distraught. Conrad swears he will save her. The pirates “kidnap” all the slave girls including Medora, with Lankendem in hot pursuit.The pirates arrive at their hideout. Medora pleads for the release of the other slave girls and Conrad agrees, but Birbanto (another pirate) protests and tries to raise a mutiny. Meanwhile, Lankendem is caught by the pirates, and he suggests a plot to retrieve Medora. Birbanto sprays a flower with poison and tells Lankendem to give it to Conrad who, overcome with the poison, collapses. Medora is frightened by this and manages to stab Birbanto in the arm. She then faints and is carried away by Birbanto’s friends, followed again by Lankendem Birbanto is about to kill Conrad when he wakes. Hearing that Medora has been abducted for real he and his loyal pirates give chase.Back at the harem, the Pasha’s harem girls are amusing themselves. Zulma, the Sultana, demands respect but Gulnara (the chief Odalisque) and her friends mock her. Lankendem arrives to deliver Medora to the Pasha. She begs for her freedom, complaining that Lankendem has treated her cruelly. He is banished by the Pasha. Pilgrims arrive, asking for lodgings for the night. Medora discovers that they are really Conrad and his friends in disguise. There is an entertainment, after which the pirates throw off their disguises. Conrad and Medora are reunited. Gulnare pleads for help to escape the harem. Birbanto and his friends arrive at the harem and try to capture Gulnare. Medora recognises Birbanto and tells Conrad of their treachery, identifying him by the wound on his arm. He and Conrad fight and Birbanto runs off. The Pasha’s guard arrive; Conrad’s band is routed and he is sentenced to death.During the preparations for the Pasha’s wedding to Medora, Conrad is prepared for his execution. She begs the Pasha to spare him, and he agrees on the condition that she marries him. Medora tells Conrad of the Pasha’s conditions and the two lovers decide to take their own lives. However, they are overheard by Gulnare who suggests a plan.
The wedding procession arrives, with the bride veiled and the ceremony takes place. Medora dances for the Pasha and is given an ornamental dagger by him. He begs for her love, also giving her a handkerchief. Threatening the Pasha with the dagger and tying him to a chair with the handkerchief, Medora and Conrad escape the harem. Gulnare runs in and unties the Pasha. It is announced by a guard that the pirate ship, with Conrad and Medora aboard, has left the harbour. The Pasha is outraged at the escape of Medora, believing her to be his wife. Gulnare produces the ring used at the ceremony; it was not Medora who was veiled, but her!
A storm overtakes the pirate ship, on which Birbanto has hidden. He tries to stir up a mutiny and is thrown overboard by Conrad. The ship hits a rock and sinks, but Conrad and Medora climb onto the rock and are saved.
Medora: Ekaterina Krysanova
Conrad: Ruslan Skvortsov
Gulnare: Marianna Ryzhkina
Birbanto: Vitaly Biktimorov
The Pasha: Alexei Loparevich
Zulna, the Sultana: Irina Zibrovna
Music: Adolphe Adam (with additions by Delibes, Pugni, von Oldenburg, Drigo, Zabel and Gerber – and probably Drooper, Snorky, Fleegle and Bingo, for all I know)
Choreography: Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka (after Petipa)
Design: Boris Kaminsky
Costumes: Yelena Zaytseva
Well, I have to say that I spent a great deal of time being confused (and with a running time of over three hours, there was plenty of time for me to do it in) being confused and at times downright bloody mystified as to what exactly was going on and who the feck certain people were during this performance. The synopsis given above is a cut-down version from the one given in the programme, which was so confusing as to bring on brain stem death in anyone trying to make sense of it. I wasn’t helped by several things; the principals used every opportunity to change their costumes, often appearing in two or three different ones in the course of a single act; various characters mentioned in the cast list didn’t appear in the synopsis (who the hell was Mufti when he was at home?); several times an unidentified person in an important-looking costume would rush onto the stage, do a big solo and then rush off again, never to be seen or heard of again; and this version bore only a passing resemblance to other productions of Corsair that I’ve seen. I was therefore reduced to soliciting help with what was going on from various other audience members during the intervals along the lines of “Who was the woman wearing the green dress?” and “Was the woman on the balcony wearing the white dress the same woman who did a dance in the red spangly one?” and “Do YOU understand what’s going on?” Fortunately a lady in the row in front took pity on me and said “One should never worry about the plot of Corsair – one should just enjoy the dancing” (they speak like that at Covent Garden). So I took her advice and just sat back and let it wash over me. Unfortunately, there was so much washing over me that I thought I was going to drown at several points in the evening. By heck, this was a long night. I can do no better than to paraphrase one of the reviews below and say “It was so lovely that I hoped it would go on for ever – and then some time later began to fear that it might”.
Quite why the Bolshoi perform this version is beyond me – it was all so glitzy and overstuffed that I can only compare it to eating an entire box of liqueur chocolates in one go; one is nice as a treat, and having a second one makes you feel wickedly self-indulgent. After the fourth you’re starting to regret the entire thing, and when you realise that there’s another layer underneath, you begin to wonder about the availability of plastic buckets in the immediate vicinity. It was all so piled on that I began to lose the ability to be discriminating about what was good and what was merely indifferent, and there seemed to be plenty of indifferent being presented on the stage, with lots of very strained “ballet acting” by any poor bugger not actually involved in the dancing (You want to buy a rug? Very nice rug, Effendi, cheap cheap. You no want to buy good rug? May the fleas of a thousand camels infect your armpits, Infidel!) The sets didn’t help – in the main they seemed designed for a much wider stage, and seriously cramped a lot of the action, particularly the set for the Pasha’s palace, which suffered from looking like a bizarre hybrid of Old Peking (Its behiiiiiind you!) and Carry On Follow That Camel with leftover bits of Chu Chin Chow thrown in just in case there was any unused space (which there invariably wasn’t). This on occasion meant that there was an odd column whack bang in the middle of where people needed to dance on the left, which wasn’t then mirrored by another one on the right, forcing those on the left to dance round the column and those on the right to wonder where their column was. In the jardin anime section, there were so many tutu’d and turbaned bodies trying to pick their way through the forests of vaguely horticultural scenery while maintaining a fixed rictus smile and worrying about whether Zvetlana on the opposite side could manage her watering can what with her dodgy elbow and all that that I seriously began to long for Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock to stroll on, spray the entire scene with RoundUp and put York stone paving down. Corsair can be done with a (relatively) coherent plot without truckloads of unnecessary stuff – but this wasn’t it. The final hair on this particularly overladen camel’s back was an entire animatronic pirate ship going down with all hands behind a front-projected curtain of crashing waves at the very end. Interesting to see – but it didn’t add anything to the plot, was practically unnecessary and just slowed the climax down to a complete crawl.
Strangest of all was the complete excision of the role of the Slave (a famous Nureyv role) and the resultant section of Act 3 in which it appears, leading to more head scratching. Perhaps it was the fleas from that camel.
To paraphrase a well-known saying: over-long, over-done and over ‘ere.
What the critics thought: