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Modern Ballet Hanz Werner Henze "Ondine" (ballet in 3 acts)
World famous Bolshoi Ballet and Opera theatre (established 1776) - Small Stage

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes

The performance has 1 intermission

Schedule for Hanz Werner Henze "Ondine" (ballet in 3 acts) 2020

Composer: Hanz Werner Henze
Costume Designer: Yelena Zaytseva
Music Director: Pavel Klinichev
Choreography: Vyacheslav Samodurov
Assistant of choreography: Klara Dovzhik
Set Designer: Anthony Mcilwain
Light Designer: Simon Bennison

Orchestra: Bolshoi Theatre Symphony Orchestra

Modern Ballet in 3 act

World premiere: 27 October 1958, Royal Opera House, London
Premiere of this production: 24 June 2016, Bolshoi theatre, Moscow, Russia

The première of the ballet took place at the Royal Opera House, London, on 27 October 1958, with the composer as guest conductor.

Ondine bears a kind of resemblance to The Little Mermaid. The story derives from Fouqué's novella Undine, the tale of a water-nymph who marries a mortal. Similar to other 19th century fairy tales, the plot is based on man (Palemon) encountering the supernatural (the water nymph Ondine), but the outcome is rather different from many of the 19th century classics: here, it is the man that dies, and the female character survives. Ondine makes her first entrance from a fountain, shivering in the cold air as we would in water. She meets the hero, Palemon, and is astonished when she feels his heartbeat as she doesn't possess a heart. Palemon deserts Berta, whom he has been courting, and decides to marry Ondine. During a particularly strong storm while at sea, Ondine is lost overboard. Palemon survives the shipwreck created by the angry Ondines and believing Ondine is lost ends up marrying Berta. Ondine returns and is heartbroken when she discovers Palemon's unfaithfulness. When she kisses him, he dies and she brings his body back into the sea with her forever.

In the published score, as with the title of the ballet, Henze also retained the original spellings of the character names. The London ballet production was given as Ondine, but the score was titled Undine, and names the lead character as Undine. Henze also uses the original name Beatrice rather than Berta.


Act 1

The score has a slow opening and immediately provides a romantic sense of mystery. However, the music then launches into a quicker tempo, brass fanfares propelling the music along with a rhythmically incisive motif. An andante section for strings follows using a straightforward lilting rhythm. The simplicity of this section is a marked contrast to the next, marked vivace where the different parts of the orchestra compete with each other with an underlying consistent rhythmic drive. The following section is also manufactured of contrasts with lyrical strings followed by a solo clarinet and sparse accompaniment. High strings, harp (for the watery effect) and occasional percussion provide another contrasting orchestral sound, before the composer again re-assembles his palette of orchestral colours, using solo instruments in small groups, or alone, or high violins in long notes soaring above moving fragments of ideas below. The finale of Act 1 has an uneven rhythm with sudden accents darting about in Stravinskian fashion, the music being punctuated here and there by astringent wind chords.

Act 2

This act begins by reestablishing the aura of romantic mystery which began Act 1. This is evoked by the use of high violins and wind chords together, similar to that of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. The first movement is characterised by the constant change of tempo, while the second picks up influences from other musical styles in particular that of rhythmic impulse and swooning which characterised Ravel's work. The next movement features solid writing for a chorus of brass instruments, after which high violins are heard over a very low accompaniment. This section also features many solos for various instruments, followed by a pas de trois above a gently undulating accompaniment where lyrical melody lines are heard, with the oboe able to penetrate the whole texture in expressive fashion. The following variation is typical of 19th century ballet music and begins with the violins before spreading to the rest of the orchestra. Brass, prominent timpani and incisive pizzicato chords in the strings culminate in a sense of urgency in the music which prepares for the musical tension in the final act.

Act 3

This act begins with a striking unison theme in the strings, soon interrupted by strident brass. This theme intensifies throughout the opening movement, recitative. The next movement, adagio, features a sweeter sound in the strings with a solo violin heard floating above the rest of the orchestral texture. The con elegenza that follows is marked by the sweeping sound of violins. Brass fanfares then introduce the pas de seize and this adagio contrasts the horns with high woodwind, while the harp adds to this effect. The tempo of the pas de seize varies and quiet lyrical moments may suddenly be interrupted by incisive brass and timpani. This section finishes with a Largo solenne movement. The connection between that movement and the final divertissement, marked Scene, begins with a vigorous and brilliant entrée. A pas de six in the same tempo includes virtuoso writing for the piano, which leads the orchestra for the ensuing pas de trois, though the orchestra controls the second pas de trois while the piano has more virtuoso work with rippling cascades of notes; before the Stravinskian rhythms emerge for piano and orchestra at the beginning of the pas de dix-huit. The orchestral momentum, of high violins en masse, sprightly wind writing, brass chords punctuating the highly charged rhythmic style, and a continuation of bravura piano writing, is maintained throughout the opening of thepas de six that follows. The orchestra then introduces a valse for a general dance (pas d’ensemble) that could almost belong to one of Ravel's more advanced scores. A pas d’action then begins to prepare for the finale. The tempo slows down, while "sparse textures with solo instrumental sounds floating above quiet accompanimental figures create a different sound world". The strings gently introduce the Dance of Sorrow, which then gains in intensity with a richer string texture. During the next variation, oboe, harp, and pitched percussion provide another watery timbre before the ballet moves to the final pas de deux. The final movement starts with gently pulsing chords that have a sweet but melancholy dissonance as Palemon is kissed by Ondine and dies.

Schedule for Hanz Werner Henze "Ondine" (ballet in 3 acts) 2020

"Ondine" ballet - final rehearsals!
About This Video
Final rehearsals for “Ondine” ballet by Hans Werner Henze are in full play at The Bolshoi. The premiere will be held on the New stage on June 24, 2016.

Libretto by Vyacheslav Samodurov
Choreographer: Vyacheslav Samodurov
Music Director: Pavel Klinichev

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