The Boston Ballet brought the heart-wrenching “Lady of the Camellias” to the opera house in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the work. Based on Alexandre Dumas’ “La dame aux camellias” and set to music by Chopin, the tragic story has inspired countless movies and adaptations, including Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” The story centers on the tragic love between the beautiful but ill courtesan Marguerite and her handsome love Armand.
Act 1 began in Marguerite’s lavish drawing room, where the dancers congregated in elaborate French costume. Over sparkling champagne and lively dancing, the flirtatious Marguerite, escorted by the Baron de Varville, instantly caught the eyes of the innocent, rustic Armand. The principal dancers acted humorously and danced animatedly, intoxicated by a copious amount of champagne and enlivened with high spirits. The scene introduced Marguerite, who was obviously aware of Armand’s interest; she teased him with seductive playfulness yet made it clear that her loyalty remained with the Baron and not Armand. A while later, however, Marguerite secretly returned Armand’s affection and extended a scandalous invitation back to her boudoir after seeing the Baron off.
Set to the second movement of Chopin’s piano Concerto No. 1 and Val Caniparoli’s choreography, Marguerite and Armand’s passionate pas de deux was arguably the most beautiful section of the entire ballet. Pianist Alex Foaksman performed the delicate piece as Marguerite and Armand, played respectively by Erica Cornejo and Lasha Khozashvili, fluttered about the room in their first dance together. The romantic piece, with a tinge of melancholy, captured the raw essence of their love as Marguerite, free of all societal expectations and of her expectations as a courtesan, twirled about in Armand’s arms in a simple, flowing nightgown. The backdrop and setting was simple, heightening the drama of couple’s first night together.
Act 2 had the most stunning scenery, inciting audible “oohs” and “aas” from the audience as the dancers in their summer dresses twirled about the garden in the afternoon breeze shown by fluttering white curtains on either side of the stage. Mikko Nissinen, creative director of the ballet, always manages to present the most visually stimulating, ethereal stage settings — from the delicately falling snow in “The Nutcracker”, to the foggy, mysterious garden in “Swan Lake”, the country garden scene in “Lady of the Camellias” did not fall short. Like the scenery, Marguerite and Armand’s summer love was just as sweet. The Baron arrives, demanding Marguerite choose between him — and his money — and Armand. Marguerite remained true to her love, but only momentarily; her happiness was interrupted by a private visit from Armand’s father who asked Marguerite to leave Armand to maintain his dignity as a gentleman. This scene was obscure for those who did not read the synopsis in the program; however, Cornejo’s dramatic acting and show of despair exemplified her sorrow as she sacrificed her love. As the background gradually dimmed into night, it symbolically represented the end of her and Armand’s relationship as depicted in the boudoir in Act 1.
In the final act, Marguerite attends a ball with the baron; she kept up the deceptive act, convincingly acting as if she no longer loved Armand. Cornejo expressed this as she made a show of visibly scorning Armand, but then turned to face the audience, face visibly tormented. Armand humiliated Marguerite and was challenged to a duel by the Baron. In the heat of the drama, the scene shifted back to Marguerite’s boudoir; as tuberculosis overcomes Marguerite, she succumbs to delirium. This was Cornejo’s shining moment — with her hair undone, she physically embodied her crazed mind driven by her agonizing in love for Armand. The production expertly showed her thoughts as Seo Hye Han and Patrick Yocum danced the boudoir pas de deux behind Cornejo in dim blue lighting, representing her dream-like recollection of her passionate dance with Armand in Act 1. In a fit of torment and passion, she dramatically dies in her boudoir, restored to her true self and finally released from all societal ties and acts of selfless sacrifice.
The “Lady of the Camellias,” complete with heart- wrenching performances by the dancers and musicians, was a clear success as represented by the audience’s standing ovation and impassioned “bravoes.”
Michelle Lee ‘17 is the Arts Editor studying English and Art History. In her free time you can find her at the museum, watching ‘50s movies, listening to classic rock, or helping her sisters survive high school. She can be reached at email@example.com.