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Watch: Song of the Earth discussed - 'The unique quality of the choreography and wonderful score make it a masterpiece'

Monica Mason, Barry Wordsworth and Grant Coyle on Kenneth MacMillan's acclaimed ballet.

By Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media))

29 April 2015 at 9.41am | 2 Comments

Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth, created in 1965 just after Romeo and Juliet, is widely acclaimed as a masterpiece and has become one of MacMillan’s most enduring works.

Set to Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, it was originally created on Stuttgart Ballet, due to the Royal Opera House Board's reservations about the suitability of Mahler’s score for ballet. However, just six months after its premiere, it was taken into The Royal Ballet repertory.

‘The inventiveness, and the unique quality and development of the choreography, set to Mahler’s wonderful score, makes it a masterpiece’, says Monica Mason, former Director of The Royal Ballet, who performed Song of the Earth when it first came to the Company.

‘What is extraordinary for me is that in the music, Mahler combines his wonderful enjoyment of life with the overall feeling that he’s not going to be around that much longer,’ says Barry Wordsworth, Royal Ballet Music Director. ‘It’s a song full of the lusty love of life, but contrasted with tranquil, reflective melody and the overwhelming feeling of change, and that is what the choreography shows so well.’

Monica and Barry recently took part in an Insights session with Guest Notator Grant Coyle. Watch an extract:

‘Kenneth had such a sense of the shortness of our lives’, agrees Monica. ‘He was not afraid of the horrors of life or its ugliness, and just took it all on board. It was part of life, along with love, lust, fun, tears and great grief.’

Song of the Earth is performed as part of a Mixed Programme with Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun and In the Night, from 29 May to 4 June 2015. A limited number of tickets is available.

The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Richard and Delia Baker and Lindsay and Sarah Tomlinson.

By Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media))

29 April 2015 at 9.41am

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged Afternoon of a Faun / In the Night / Song of the Earth, Barry Wordsworth, by Kenneth Macmillan, Grant Coyle, In conversation, insights, Mixed Programme, Monica Mason, Production, Song of the Earth

This article has 2 comments

  1. Michael Varcoe-Cocks responded on 28 May 2015 at 4:54pm Reply

    I am looking very much looking forward to Song of the Earth tomorrow. I must have seen it 20 or more times, but this season I have been wondering why on earth (!) surtitles have not finally been introduced for this piece. No operas, even in English, are done without the help of surtitles.

    If the words of Das Lied don't matter, please play an orchestral arrangement; if you think we'd be distracted from the stage action (a) we manage with opera and (b) please start by stopping the distraction of the singers walking on and off: they wouldn't/don't in the concert hall.

    If the words do matter, do you really expect every member of your audience to have studied the text (German or English) before the performance? It's too late for the current run, but perhaps you could plan surtitles for the next revival. In the meantime, I am sure I am not alone on wondering about the extent to which surtitles have been considered and, if so, the reason for not providing them.

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 3 June 2015 at 10:57am

      Hi Michael,

      As dance is a different medium from opera, we feel it would be distracting to shift focus between the surtitles and the movement on stage. The music is very much enriched by the singers and part of MacMillan’s vision. We hope the programme notes and inclusion of the poems will be helpful.


      ROH Content Producer

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