Grand ballet in 3 acts
Music by Alexander Glazunov
19th January [O.S. 7th January] 1898
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Original 1898 Cast
Jean de Brienne
Set in the 12th century, the beautiful young countess, Raymonda is waiting for the return of her beloved fiancé, Jean de Brienne, the noble knight of the Crusades. However, when the Saracen knight, Abderakhman arrives and sets his sights on Raymonda, she receives a terrible warning from the legendary White Lady that her life is in danger. Luckily, Jean de Brienne returns in time to save Raymonda from the hands of the Saracen when he attempts to abduct her and all is well.
Raymonda was one of Petipa’s final, most successful ballets to be staged during the golden years of his career. The 1890s had seen some of the biggest highlights of Petipa’s career, which first emerged with the creation of The Sleeping Beauty. This late era saw Petipa taking a slightly different step from what he had previously produced for the St Petersburg Imperial Ballet. He was now creating ballets that lacked dramatic plots and character development and was, instead, presenting new ballets that represented the grand spectacle. The ballet-féerie made its impact on the Imperial Ballet following the success of The Sleeping Beauty and materialised again in other ballets such as Cinderella and Bluebeard.
In 1898, the year of Petipa’s 80th birthday, he created Raymonda to music by the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov and a libretto by the author and columnist, Countess Lydia Pashkova. Set in Medieval Europe with beautiful noblewomen, heroic knights of the Crusades, a scheming antagonist and the mysterious White Lady, the ballet was a new parallel to The Sleeping Beauty. The distinctive parallel echoes to The Sleeping Beauty are found in the dazzling virtuosa entrance for the titular character, an enchanting visions scene in which the lovers reunite in a magical atmosphere, a cour de amour to celebrate the protagonist’s return and a final grand wedding act. The ballet was another opportunity for Petipa to showcase the great talent of the Italian dancers through one of his favourite ballerinas Pierina Legnani, who created the title role.
Raymonda was premièred on the 19th January [O.S. 7th January] 1898 and was a huge success, with most of the praise going towards Legnani’s performance, Petipa’s choreography and Glazunov’s score.
Raymonda was notated in the Stepanov notation method circa. 1903 during rehearsals in which Petipa was coaching Olga Preobrazhenskaya in the title role. In 2011, Sergei Vikharev utilised the notations to mount a reconstruction of the 1898 production for La Scala Ballet. The reconstruction had its world première on the 11th October 2011 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
Did you know?
- Petipa’s original plan for Abderakhman’s entrance was for him to make his first appearance during the Visions scene, just like Jean de Brienne. However, Pavel Gerdt complained to Vsevolozhsky, saying “No first entrance of Pavel Gerdt should be in someone’s nightmare!” Therefore, Petipa and Glazunov were required to add an interpolation into Act 1, scene 1 for Gerdt’s entrance so Abderakhman made his first appearance by crashing Raymonda’s name day, much to Petipa’s frustration. Several modern productions, however, have since retained Petipa’s original idea of having Abderakhman making his first appearance in the Visions scene, including Sergei Vikharev’s 2011 reconstruction.
- In her second act variation, Pierina Legnani performed a sequence of entrechats quatre done sur la pointe, which caused a sensation at the 1898 première. However, the notation shows that for this variation, Olga Preobrazhenskaya performed changements done sur la pointe.
Variation of Jean de Brienne/Béranger
The variation that is known today as the Variation of Jean de Brienne has a very interesting history.
Jean de Brienne did not dance a solo in the original production and what is known today as the Variation of Jean de Brienne is actually the Variation of Béranger. This variation was choreographed for the Act 2 Grand Pas d’action, preceding Raymonda’s variation, and was first performed by Nikolai Legat. The variation later became a variation for Jean de Brienne in the Grand Pas Classique Hongrois after Konstantin Sergeyev transferred it to Act 3 in his 1948 revival of Raymonda.
Jean de Brienne originally danced in the Variation of four danseurs, which is usually danced today by four male soloists and/or coryphées. At the 1898 première, this variation was danced by four legendary dancers – Nikolai and Sergei Legat, Georgy Kyaksht and Alexander Gorsky, all of whom were pioneers in the field of male technique and for whom many of the classical repertoire’s most famous male variations were originally created.
- Wiley, Roland John (2007) A Century of Russian Ballet. Alton, Hampshire, UK: Dance Books Ltd