Lady of the Camellias, Ballet by J. Neumeier
John Neumeier’s ballet Lady of the Camellias ranks among the most successful adaptations of La dame aux camélias, the novel and subsequent play by French author Alexandre Dumas fils. A story of semi-autobiographical nature set in Paris and focussed on a marvellous courtesan, the plot is destined for greatness. Giuseppe Verdi turned the source text into his beloved opera La Traviata. John Neumeier was one of a few famous choreographers to set the work to dance, and his effort remains outstanding with its emotionality and expressivity. It owes a lot of its dramatic charge to the music of Frédéric Chopin. Lady of the Camellias had its debut performance in 1978 by the Stuttgart Ballet. Since then, Neumeier has been notoriously picky about revivals and new productions of his masterpiece. Vienna State Opera has the honour of hosting the thrilling story this season.
The ballet presents the tragic love between Armand Duval and Marguerite Gautier, a young bourgeois gentleman and a stunning, high-class Parisian courtesan. Their relationship is nothing short of scandalous, yet their mutual feelings cannot be tamed by societal norms and peer pressure – or so it seems at first. A fateful conversation with Armand’s father will push Marguerite away from the pure-hearted and sincere young man, and life will take its cruel relentless course from there on in. The drama unfolds under the accompaniment of two pianos, which seem to duel over Chopin’s emotionally tense compositions as the two lovers meet and fall apart again against the backdrop of judgmental and cold Parisian society.
Neumeier’s choreography for Lady of the Camellias has a unique cinematic quality that makes sure the ballet grabs audiences from the very start and leaves a lasting impression. It employs many movie-like devices such as retrospective and a play-within-a-play, referencing another classic work, Manon Lescaut, to hint at Marguerite and Armand’s own tragic fate. The focus changes from the main characters’ inner worlds to light-hearted representations of 19th-century Parisian life, and the shifts are effortless and colourful. At Vienna State Opera, an old classic comes to life in music and movement.