Movie musicals come in many forms -- Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, the great fun of the Golddigger musicals of the 1930's, the famed MGM musicals of the 1940's and 50's -- but there are other musical movies as well. I would like to share one with three definite stories performed in ballet. Return of the Firebird presents, as separate movies, Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, and Stravinsky's Petrouchka. In a review I wrote in May, 2010, I discussed the issue of watching movies about ballet vs. watching ballet itself. Some may believe ballet is something to be avoided or endured rather than a form of great entertainment. However, Return of the Firebird, filmed at Russia's Mosfilm Studios, starring and directed by famed Mariinsky ballet star Andris Liepa, may just change your mind if you have never thought you would enjoy this art form. Liepa was determined to present the three ballets as movies, similar to silent movies in which the story is told in music, movement and gesture. He did not want typical straight-view stage performances. As a result, the ballets are filled with beautiful special effects, camera work that focuses clearly and perfectly on the dancing, close-ups and designs, and even as a ballet lover, I have never seen anything close to this type of presentation, barring only the ballet sequence from The Red Shoes.
I was lucky enough to find the entire Firebird ballet from this DVD on Youtube. I am posting it here in its 5 parts. Those who are interested will be able to watch the ballet in full. If you don’t have time, or don’t think you’d like it, I would urge you to at least watch Nos. 2 and 3 to get the idea of something very special. You will see the Firebird, the maidens and the monster! The whole ballet is only about 38 minutes, about the same amount of time as an old Seinfeld episode -- take a chance!
In summary, the story of The Firebird begins with a young hunter in the woods who stumbles across a dark and frightening castle, surrounded by men turned to stone. A golden apple tree nearby shakes in the wind, and a fiery bird is seen approaching the tree. The hunter tries to shoot her, then capture her. She fights to be free, then offers the hunter a blazing feather for her freedom. She then joyfully flies free. The hunter sees a group of maidens come out of the castle and play around the tree. He falls in love with the princess, but she must return to the castle after a certain time. They are prisoners of the monster Kashchey (an ugly monster if ever there was one). The hunter decides to try to free them, he is captured by Kashchey and his minions, and is about to be turned to stone. He pulls the Firebird's blazing feather from his shirt, and she appears instantly. The monster and his demons are powerless against her. While the Firebird keeps everyone at bay, the hunter finds a luminous egg which contains Kashchey's soul and power. He destroys the egg, the monster and friends go up in a puff of smoke, and the evil spell is broken. The unfortunate men are returned to life, the maidens are reunited with them, the hunter and princess are together, and the story ends in fire and light and the most incredible climax of music Stravinsky ever wrote. I hope you enjoy it as much as I.