"Ondine" de Henze, uno de los mejores ballets de la historia de la música. Hoy 27 de octubre de 2012 fallece Henze

Estrenado en Londres el 27 de Octubre de 1958. Henze nació el 1 de julio de 1926 y murió el 27 de octubre de 2012.

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Ondine is a ballet in three acts created by the choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton and composer Hans Werner Henze. Ashton originally produced Ondine for the Royal Ballet in 1958, with Henze commissioned to produce the original score, published as Undine, which has since been restaged by other choreographers. The ballet was adapted from a novella called Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué and it tells the tale of a water nymph who is the object of desire of a young prince named Palemon. The première of the ballet took place at the Royal Opera House, London, on 27 October 1958, with the composer as guest conductor. The first major revival of this Ashton/Henze production took place in 1988.

The three-act ballet of Ondine was commissioned and produced for The Royal Ballet in 1958 by the choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton. The resulting ballet was a collaboration between Ashton and the German composer Hans Werner Henze, who was commissioned to write the score. It is the only full length ballet that Ashton choreographed to original music, and the score is regarded as a rarity by musicians, as it is a "20th century full-length ballet score that has the depth of a masterwork".

The ballet was originally intended as a vehicle for The Royal Ballet's then Prima Ballerina, Margot Fonteyn and the title role of Ondine was choreographed specially for her and led one critic to describe the ballet as 'a concerto for Fonteyn'. From its première in 1958 until the work was removed from the repertoire in 1966, nearly every performance of Ondine saw Fonteyn cast in the lead role, with the only occasional exceptions seeing Nadia Nerina and Svetlana Beriosova dancing the role. Maria Almeida became the first ballerina to dance the role of Ondine in a revival, with Anthony Dowell dancing the role of Palemon. Staged in 1988, the revival was a success and the ballet has been regularly performed ever since.

Ashton initially approached Sir William Walton to compose the score for Ondine. They had worked together before, on a ballet called The Quest for the Sadler's Wells company in 1943, and agreed to collaborate again for the 1955–56 season; they decided on Macbeth as their subject. Fonteyn, however, was firmly opposed to playing Lady Macbeth, and was not enthused by Ashton's next suggestion, Miranda in a ballet of The Tempest. By the time Ashton had lighted on Ondine as an alternative, Walton was immersed in work on a concerto. He suggested that his friend Henze be approached. Accordingly, the music was commissioned from Henze, who titled the score Undine.

Henze and Ashton met at the former's home on the island of Ischia, just across the bay from Naples, to decide their key approaches to this new ballet. They decided to ignore the northern origins of Fouqué's novella Undine and move it to the Mediterranean. Ashton and Henze chose Lila de Nobili to design the set and costumes. She was described by Henze as "an Italian bewitched by English landscape and culture", however her first intention was to make the sets in the style that might have been seen on the stage of La Scala a hundred years earlier.

However, Henze and Ashton had decided not to make their ballet a mix of all the great works of the nineteenth century, but rather that it would be the product of their own contemporary sensibilities with references to other works. Eventually, the three of them decided that Ondine would have a "gothic-revival" setting.

Despite his experience in the ballet world, Henze had never before composed a subject in the romantic style which Ashton requested, however Ashton had been impressed by Henze's treatment of magical material in his opera König Hirsch. Henze attended many ballet performances at Covent Garden, frequently accompanied by Ashton who told him clearly what he liked and what he did not like in music for dance. Eventually the work was completed, but when Ashton heard a recording of the orchestrated score he realised that he would have to revise his ideas; the sustained orchestral sounds were such a contrast to the piano score and made him think very differently.

Henze later arranged the Wedding Music for wind orchestra in 1957 and a further two orchestral suites in 1958.

Critical reception

After its première in 1958 it was greeted with mixed, half-hearted reviews, although the first night reviews of 'Ondine' were unanimous about one thing: Fonteyn's triumph in the title role. A.V.Coton spoke of "the supernormal sensitivity of feeling, interaction and mutual understanding which exists between Ashton and his heroine", and Cyril Beaumont saw the ballet as Ashton's "greatest gift" to his ballerina.

Nothing else about the piece pleased everybody, though most reviewers liked Lila de Nobili's designs and praised the contribution of the supporting cast – Beaumont called Alexander Grant's Tirrenio "of Miltonic stature, magnificently danced and mimed." Edwin Denby dismissed 'Ondine' : after praising Fonteyn he said "But the ballet is foolish, and everyone noticed".[5] Most critics disliked the music and Mary Clarke was in the minority when she called it "rich and romantic and superbly rhythmical". Fernau Hall thought Henze showed "little understanding of the needs of classical dancing", and that 'Ondine' would establish itself firmly in the repertoire "if it were not for Henze's music".

In 1958 the ballet was widely seen as having choreography and décor in harmony with each other but fighting with the music; now it's the choreography and the music which seem to speak the same language, while the sets look not only backward but to the north. Even when it was revived in 1988, it was hailed neither as a disaster nor as a lost masterpiece. Henze's modern music is also perceived as a reason for the few performances of this ballet before its revival in the 1990s.

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.

Crítica de la Revista Gramophone

Composer or Director:
Hans Werner Henze
Magazine Review Date:

Hans Werner Henze Composer
Oliver Knussen Conductor
Peter Donohoe (pf)
London Sinfonietta
Michael Oliver

Hans Werner Henze’s Undine (or Ondine, as Frederick Ashton’s ballet for which it was written is called) is easily his most approachable score, filled with melody, magically delicate evocation and humour. Yet the ballet itself has faded without the dancer who was its inspiration, Margot Fonteyn, and despite Henze’s quarrying of several suites and other extracts from it the score has not caught on in the concert-hall.

When the ballet first appeared, in October 1958, the music was dismissed by some critics as an eclectic and derivative mish-mash, and indeed it makes no effort to disguise its indebtedness to, in particular, the neo-classical Stravinsky (the Symphony in Three Movements is briefly but almost literally quoted on more than one occasion).

What we have been missing all these years, this enthusiastically committed performance demonstrates, is a score that pays homages to the whole tradition of classical dance and the music written for it, a score whose richness is out of all proportion to the chamber orchestra it uses. That richness ranges from a quite magnificently sonorous evocation of the sea, via the stately wedding music in Act 2, to the deliciously tongue-in-cheek miniature piano concerto (Igor Stravinsky meets Richard Rodgers) that accompanies the quite irrelevant but entertaining divertissement in Act 3.

The second divertissement, that is: disastrously for the otherwise poetic scenario about a water-nymph’s fatal love for a human, Ashton insisted on two of them.

But the heart of the ballet is the subtle, quietly iridescent music associated with Ondine herself. Ashton’s ballet was described as a ‘concerto’ for Fonteyn, and much of Henze’s score is a sort of portrait of “the radiant centre of the whole ballet ... this wonder floating, almost, above the ground”, as Henze described her at the time. It is his achievement that the concluding passacaglia, even after those interpolations, is so moving as Ondine, knowing that her kiss will kill her beloved, is nevertheless irresistibly drawn to embrace him.

What this wonderfully lucid, skilful and beautiful score needs is what saved Britten’s The Prince of the Pagodas from oblivion: new choreography and a somewhat modified plot. Until then, Knussen’s performance is so good that you can almost imagine a staging for yourself, and it is finely recorded.'

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