The Stone Flower, the last of Prokofiev's nine ballets, is a radiantly scored, luminously lyrical piece of music. Traces of the young Prokofiev's brashly scored, boldly dissonant Scythian Suite are rare in the composer's late works -- and nowhere in this four-act extravaganza. Whether Prokofiev mellowed as he grew older or was worn down by the Soviet Union's music critic -- in-chief Josef Stalin can be debated endlessly, but The Stone Flower is the bloom to beat for an enjoyable evening at the ballet.
Both literally and figuratively, this VAI release of the Bolshoi Theater's 1959 production spotlights the dancing. All of the leads are superb, particularly the strong but supple Ekaterina Maximova as Katerina, and the corps de ballet's breathtaking and flawless ensemble is incredibly impressive. Unfortunately, all their performances are severely compromised by grossly inadequate lighting. While the dancers are spot lit, the stage and backdrops are lit only by reflected light and thus in the dark most of the time. Not only are the backdrops hard to make out, but the dancers themselves are continually disappearing into the shadows. Aleksandr Kopilov and the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra are supportive not demonstrative; the Soviet-era sound is serviceable, not enjoyable; and, in sum, this disc is functional, not acceptable.
If it were the only video of the work available, this Stone Flower might serve as a stopgap. But Kultur has released an equally well danced 1971 Kirov production that corrects the deficiencies of this one -- its stage and backdrops are brilliantly lit and its costumes and staging are vividly colorful -- and adds an exciting orchestral performance plus sparkling sound. Clearly, it's The Stone Flower to pick.