Remember those events you were taken to as a small child when grown-ups expected you to enjoy yourself and, instead, you were bored stiff? At Christmas time the Royal Festival Hall in London’s south bank has usually presented a Nutcracker ballet. When I was taken to it by an aunt (who regrettably died last year) I was not very impressed and wondered what all the fuss was about.
For many years, anyway, Tchaikovsky was not a favourite composer of mine. His music, so” sentimental” and “melodramatic”, I could not enter into that world… But then even Puccini was anathema to me. How musical tastes change over time! I love both greats today and when the chance came to attend “Il Schiaccanoci” with the Moscow Ballet at Florence’s Verdi Theatre I seized the chance.
I’d never attended a show at the Verdi theatre, and it is huge. Our seats were on the sixth tier of boxes but we could still enjoy this ravishing ballet to the full. The initial disappointment of not having a live orchestra was soon forgotten in the glorious dancing we witnessed – both paradoxically graceful and muscular. The costumes were particularly sumptious. They know how to do these things well in the ex-soviet union.
How could I have not appreciated the wonderful score, with that novelty instrument, the celesta, Tchaikovsky wrote for the ballet which was originally presented in a double bill with his opera Iolanta at St Petersburg in 1892. It seems almost unbelievable that the year following this life-enhancing work one of Russia’s great composes drank (almost certainly on purpose) a glass of water infected with cholera and died aged just 53.
True, Tchaikovsky had huge problems coming to terms with his sexuality – the love whose name cannot be spoken – so difficult in a fin-de-siècle tsarist Russia but he had also found some happiness – particularly in his beloved Florence where, in a Villa on the picturesque Via San Leonardo he composed some of his most appealing works including a string sextet entitled “souvenir de Florence”.
It was, therefore, absolutely appropriate that we could witness a “Schiaccianoci” in a city where Tchaikovsky did finally manage to find some peace in his otherwise so-unfairly tormented life.