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Sylvia review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘an unabashed joy’

The company of Sylvia at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

November is dark and dank; the world is in a state of perpetual crisis. So to watch the Royal Ballet in Sylvia – Frederick Ashton’s second full-length work, originally choreographed in 1952 – is an unabashed joy. Something delightful and dopamine-producing is going on at Covent Garden.

Delibes’ excellent score is full of proud fanfares and gorgeous melodies, but the ballet is by no means a perfect work, in terms of narrative or structure. Ashton, unsatisfied, chopped and condensed its three acts and programme notes are necessary to follow the Arcadian goings-on between wily nymph Sylvia, smitten shepherd Aminta and villainous Orion. Plus Diana, Endymion, Eros (sometimes disguised in a floppy hat) and a pair of scampering goats.

For all its silliness and camp eccentricities, it is nevertheless a glorious exhibition of Ashton’s choreographic style, complemented by grand leafy designs. Marianela Nunez performs the central role (originally a tribute to Margot Fonteyn) with all her characteristic elan and lyrical luminosity.

Flanked by Amazonian attendants, she starts off a triumphant hunter with horn in hand, the confident crispness of her footwork sweetened by the trailing musicality of her upper body. The famous pizzicato section is a virtuoso show of pluck, while in the final pas de deux she phrases little flickering steps as ecstatic grace notes to the solo violin line. Vadim Muntagirov is a convincingly sensitive shepherd, displaying magnificent elevation and landings as soft as wool.

Marianela Nunez and Vadim Muntagirov excel in Frederick Ashton’s heartfelt and amusing mythical romance


Royal Opera House
November 23, 2017
December 16, 2017
Press night
November 23, 2017
Leo Delibes
Frederick Ashton
Christopher and Robin Ironside, with additional designs by Peter Farmer
Mark Jonathan
Christopher Newton and Christopher Saunders (staging)
Stage manager
Johanna Adams Farley
Production manager
Susan Usher
Cast includes
Marianela Nunez, Vadim Muntagirov, Thiago Soares, Valentino Zucchetti, Itziar Mendizabal, Claire Calvert, Yuhui Choe, Helen Crawford, Hannah Grennell
Royal Opera House
Running time
2hrs 30mins