It’s 1910 in Paris, and the Belle Époque is in full swing. The 20th Century has brought with it all manner of modern customs, thrills, and opportunities: new technologies, new fashions. And art… a new ballet troupe from Russia has come to town, promising something contemporary Parisians cannot ignore: the thrill of the different. The Ballets Russes would become renowned for its innovative and exotic choreography, sets and direction. But Sergei Diaghilev – the troupe’s flamboyant impresario – has come brandishing a particularly powerful weapon: a talented though practically unknown composer, who’s written music for a new work in the troupe’s Parisian season.
Some may have had their doubts, but after the opening of The Firebird, it’s impossible to deny Igor Stravinsky’s talent. Audiences at the premiere were left spellbound by this magical fairy tale ballet, steeped in the mythologies and traditions of Russia and the Far East, and with its brand-new score brimming with fantastical melodies, harmonies, and orchestrations. A year later, Stravinsky returned with music for another new production, based on the goings-on inside a fairground puppet theatre. Petrushka wasn’t just a delight to watch on stage; the music was enchanting, too. It was also boundary-pushing, offering previously unheard sonorities and textures that captured the hearts – and the attention – of Paris’s theatre-going public.