Paganini. An exhibition and reconstruction

I was delighted to hear that Sharon Swim Wing, who has devoted a considerable amount of time over the past decades to researching the 1939 Fokine/Rachmaninoff/Soudeikine ballet Paganini, has been able to mount a small exhibition relating to the ballet, its creation and its collaborators at the Napa Valley Museum as part of the Festival del Sole held in the Napa Valley, California. The exhibition runs throughout July.

Wing first became interested in the story behind Paganini while living in Moscow where she began intensive research into the life of composer, conductor and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff. Over the subsequent years she pursued that interest around the world and her research included meeting up with a number of former dancers who had performed in Paganini. They included Irina Baronova, Tatiana Riabouchinska, and Tatiana Leskova, all of whom created roles in the work for its premiere in London in 1939. From Riabouchinska, Wing acquired the Soudeikine-designed, soft pink dress worn by the Florentine Beauty, the role created in London by Riabouchinska and then danced by her throughout Australia with the Original Ballet Russe.
Balletomane's art book cover

Cover of Balletomanes’ art book: pictorial parade of Russian ballet 1940 (Sydney: London Book Co., 1940) edited by T. Essington Breen with hand-coloured photos by Nanette Kuehn. Cover photo: Tatiana Riabouchinska and Paul Petroff in Paganini. National Library of Australia.

The exhibition in California includes the Florentine Beauty costume, reproductions of the Soudeikine designs, some photographic material and items relating to the Rachmaninoff score, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, including the piano reduction of the score used when the de Basil company was touring in South America. This item was kindly donated by Tatiana Leskova. In addition Wing has included portraits of the dancers in Paganini painted by Boris Chaliapin in 1941, which highlight the close friendship between Rachmaninoff and Boris Chaliapin’s father, the singer Feodor Chaliapin.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Wing’s achievements relating to Paganini, however, is that she has been able to have a small excerpt from the ballet presented as part of the Dance Gala that accompanies the Festival. The excerpt was performed on 19 July by Ballet San Jose. The performance was accompanied by the Russian National Orchestra under the baton of George Daugherty. There are plans for the ballet to be reconstructed in full at a later date.

See also my post dating back to September 2009 in which I set out some details of the production of Paganini and its Australian connections.

Michelle Potter, 20 July 2013

UPDATE 21 July 2013: I came across these two photographs of scenes from Paganini as performed by de Basil’s company in South America. Both come from the album of photographs assembled by James Upshaw. The first one is on a page headed ‘Cordoba’ so is most likely from 1942. The other is on a unmarked page and cannot at this stage be dated with any certainty.

Scene from 'Paganini', Cordoba, South America, 1942

Scene from 'Paganini', South America 1940s

UPDATE: 24 July 2013: Both photos were taken in Argentina in 1942 at the Teatro Politeama in Buenos Aires. They both show Tatiana Leskova as the Florentine Beauty, with Dimitri Rostoff as Paganini in the top image and Oleg Tupine as the Florentine Youth in the bottom image. Leskova took over the role of the Florentine Beauty in 1942. With thanks to Tatiana Leskova for this information.

4 thoughts on “Paganini. An exhibition and reconstruction

  1. Thank you Michelle, for the pointer to this exhibition. If we could possibly get another Fokine ballet restored, perhaps it would help burnish a reputation that seems to presume that nothing of interest was created by Fokine after the break with Diaghilev. The Ringland Anderson films contain a lot of material both in colour and black and white from Paganini. I posted a very brief colour excerpt [taken from ‘Another Beginning’] of the Florentine Beauty episode, on YouTube.

    This Fokine ballet and the whole Romantic concept of the Paganini legend came to mind last year when I was sorting out my responses to the Stephan Baynes ‘Swan Lake’. Baynes’ concept of Rothbart seemed to me perfectly acceptable and understandable in the context of a Romantic, Hoffmannesque teatment of ‘Swan Lake’.

  2. I think Sharon has been trying for some time to find a company willing to reconstruct this ballet. I believe she tried unsuccessfully in Australia at some stage. There was a restaging by Tulsa Ballet in the 1980s but you have probably read, Adrian, in the Vicente Garcia-Marquez publication, that archival footage was not used as an aid during the reconstruction process. Garcia-Marquez rightly lamented this situation. The Australian material shot by Dr Ringland Anderson is exceptionally valuable, as we know. The Australian premiere of Paganini was just 6 months after the world premiere in London making the footage as close to Fokine’s original conception as one could hope for.

    I have not been able to embed successfully the YouTube excerpt you mention. The column width for comments truncates the video and I’m not experienced enough to modify things. But here is a link to the footage: Another Beginning: Paganini excerpt.

    I have also come across in the Upshaw album, of which I have written previously, two images from performances of Paganini in South America, which I have added as an update to the post above.

  3. DEAR MICHELLE ,IF I KNEW ,YOU HAD ,FILMS OF DR, ANDERSON, I COULD OF HELPT! …..
    SHARON DID ASK ME TO RESTAGGE PAGANINI,BUT I TOLD HER I WAS SHURE ONLY OF THE SECOND
    MOVEMENT, THOUGH I HAD YEARS BEFORE ,PERFORMED A LITTLE ROLE IN THE FIRST AND LAST MOVEMEN WHEN THE BALLET WAS STAGGED IN LONDON,,AND DID WHEN NEADED THE ANGELS IN THE LAST ,BUT NOT SURE OF IT ANYMORE !
    IF I KNEW AT THE TIME! ,THAT EXISTED SOME FILMS,I!MAYBE I COULD OF RESTAGE IT ,WHEN I STILL WAS YONG,!
    I SAW THE FILMS OF THE RESTAGGING IN MOUSSIAS AND JASINSKY BALLET IN TULSA ,I WAS
    TERRIBLE!!!!!!!!REALLY I WAS SURPRISED HAD, VLADIMIR HAD THE COURAGE TO DO IT !!!!!.
    IF I HAD THE DR, ANDERSON BITS AND BITS OF PIECES FILMS OF PAGANINI,MAYBE ! I COULD OF RESTAGE THIS MARVELOUS BALLET? NOW ITS TOO LATE,
    AT THE TIME I RESTAGGED LES PRESAGES AND LATTER CHOREARTHIUM ,MABY I WOUD BE ,ABLE TO DO IT. …..I STAYED WITH THE COMPANY ,FROM 1939 TILL THE END OF 1944…. ,

  4. Tatiana, Never mind. At least you have done Choreartium and Presages, and such a wonderful job. I loved watching the snatches of Choreartium on the DVD.

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