Minkus, Don Quixote
I think the last time I went to see a complete ballet performed live was in around 1979, with the Pennsylvania Ballet (I am pretty sure it was Coppelia by Léo Delibes). I suppose there is a good reason I have waited 40 years to go again – same Pennsylvania Ballet company, but this time Don Quixote by Ludwig Minkus. After this experience, I might wait another 40 years (until 2059) to go another time.
It is not like I do not see ballet regularly. Thanks to silly French convention, ballets are inserted in many 19th century operas (often disruptive, sometimes not, but usually only a limited set of dance pieces within a larger musical score). I’ve also seen individual scenes in different contexts. But sitting through an entire ballet seemed a chore. As I am visiting my mother in Philadelphia and she wanted to go, I was a good sport and tagged along (who knows, maybe I’d change my mind and like it). It was also fun to go to an event in Philadelphia’s Academy of Music (still owned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, although they moved to the Kimmel Center in 2001 (neither hall has good acoustics), where I attended so many concerts and operas when growing up in this city.
I admit I had to look Minkus up, as he is not a composer I had ever encountered before (it seems for good reason). A Jew born in Vienna in 1826 (where he died in 1917), he seems to have been good at one thing: writing insipid, cloying, utterly pointless music that happened to be easy to dance to. He spent most of his life in Russia, where he churned out buckets of this droll, pasted together ad nauseum to make ballets such as the one this evening (based loosely on an episode in Cervantes’ book) for theaters in St. Petersburg and Moscow. A number or two would have sufficed – a whole evening of this drivel was just maddening. I could listen to dances by the Strauß family all day, but they had talent to write more than just danceable tunes but rather some quite good music – Minkus seems to have missed out on that concept entirely. Beatrice Jona Affron conducted an unspectacular pit orchestra – I suppose she and the orchestra cannot be held accountable for the music, but only someone with a lobotomy could perform this stuff more than once (the run is for eleven performances spread over ten days, which must be truly mind-numbing).
As for the dancing: my mother (who would know) said it was indeed very good, and I will take her word for it since I do not feel competent to judge it. My problem is that I have lived in Tbilisi, and having seen how Georgians dance, I am not sure that anyone else will ever impress me. All dancing pales in comparison to Georgian dance.