For me – and for most people – Giselle is the definitive tragic, romantic/Romantic ballet. The role of Giselle is also one of my favourites to watch – there’s so much for ballerinas to sink their teeth into, from the girlish innocence and hysterical madness of Act 1 to the protective, floating spirit in Act II. So every new interpretation is particularly interesting.
In this 1996 La Scala production, Alessandra Ferri fails to completely convince me in the lead role, particularly in a disappointingly lacklustre Mad Scene. Her Act I solo variation is impressive though, and her Wili incarnation is suitably pale and serene, with gorgeously expressive arms.
Slight differences in the staging of this production manage to cast subtle inflections on the story. Hilarion, Giselle’s jilted would-be lover, is often unsympathetically treated (in spite of his comparatively honest intentions), but the fact that this production opens with him nervously hesitating outside Giselle’s cottage, flowers in hand, gives his character another dimension. Clearly, he has genuine feelings for the heroine – which motivate his exposure of Albrecht – and isn’t a one-dimensional antagonist like Rothbart or Carabosse. Similarly, choosing to set the Mad Scene at sunset cleverly bridges the gap between the happy, sunlit capering of Act I and the cold moonlit realm of the Wilis. It also highlights the scene’s pivotal significance as Giselle moves from one world to the other. The prolonged, deathly stare between Albrecht and Giselle’s mother at the conclusion of this scene is an excellent touch too.
Act II is beautifully performed, with just a few issues. Firstly, the Wilis whizzing round Hilarion as he first enters at the start of the act is confusing, disorientating and takes away from Myrthe’s spooky entrance moments later. Luckily, there’s no sign of diminutive fairy wings on the Wilis (as in the Royal Ballet version), though their long, full tutus seem a little too pristine considering they are basically zombie brides. It must also be said that their chugging is no match for the Royal’s corps de ballet. And finally, the tender, sad parting of the lovers in the final scene is somewhat marred by Giselle exiting the stage just as she entered it – through a trapdoor in her grave. Subtle.