DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
PROKOFIEV: The Stone Flower ballet (1990)
Published on November 29, 2006
Danila: Niklai Dorokhov; Katerina: Lyudmilla Semenyaka; Mistress of Copper Mt.: Nina Semizorova; Severyan: Yuri Vetrov/The Bolshoi Ballet/The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/ Aleksandr Kopilov
Studio: EuroArts/ArtHaus Musik 101 121
Video: 4:3 full screen, color
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5 .1, PCM stereo
Length: 120 minutes
This three-act ballet occupied Prokofiev near the end of his life as he was struggling to work under the idiotic thumb of the Soviet cultural powers committee dictated by Stalin. A long list of his works had been drawn up which were not allowed to be played in the Soviet Union due to their “formalist tendencies.” Alas, he never made it and died of a heart attack a year before the ballet was premiered.
Prokofiev took the fairy tale The Stone Flower as his ballet subject; it came from a collection of stories about the miners in the Ural mountains. He slipped in some coded satire of Stalin just as Shostakovich did in some of his music. Since early in his career Stalin had been a priest seminarian, mock spiritual music in Russian Orthodox style could function as a secret code. Also, the only real villain of the ballet – the mine-owner Severyan – dances around angrily and boorishly in his big boots (made me think of Stalin right away) and while drunk engages a troop of gypsy musicians – a reference to the folksy/catchy melodies which the bureaucracy wanted to get from composers. Musically, the ballet doesn’t have nearly the sweep and dramatic appeal of probably his finest work – Romeo and Juliet – but it is quite listenable.
The ballet is quite philosophical and much pantomime is required to bring out the complicated plot. At the base of it, sculptor Danila is torn between perfecting his art and his love of Katerina. The Mistress of the Copper Mountain offers her minerals as well as herself to him but in the end Danila chooses Katerina and one of those big wedding celebrations so important to many ballets concludes the work.
The dancing is typical strict ballet in the Russian style and of highest quality. Danila is especially flight of feet. The gypsy ensemble gets to be a bit looser in their dances – often not even in sync with one another. The costumes of the Copper Mountain dancers are spectacular. The alternation between long shots and closeups of the dancers is well-balanced in keeping a feeling for the overall layout on the stage. The lighting is sometimes a bit murky and the color is, well, Soviet color – which always seems slanted toward the greenish and in fact often looks as though everything was shot in black & white and then hand-tinted. On my old CRT display it appeared extremely soft focus, but on the Samsung DLP it sharpened up enough not to be annoying. The soundtrack is identified on the box as PCM Stereo only – what an omission! It’s actually both DTS & DD 5.1 surround and the DTS track is terrific – quite an improvement on the murky, artificially-reverberated Soviet-era sound that usually accompanied such images!
– John Sunier