Performance deserves an orchestra

Published May 6, 2007

TAMPA - The performances were often exquisite, the sets were dazzling and the costumes were opulent.

Still a couple of important elements were conspicuously absent in Orlando Ballet's dazzling staging of Swan Lake at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center this weekend.

One was an orchestra. Such a lavish production of a classic ballet, with its gorgeous music by Tchaikovsky, demands and deserves live music.

No doubt, Orlando Ballet would have preferred to present its Swan Lake in Tampa with a live orchestra. (Its upcoming performance in Orlando will feature the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.) And no doubt there were legitimate logistical and economic concerns that went into the decision to use recorded music here.

Still, the absence of an orchestra kept the fine production at arm's length. The effect was not unlike watching a world-class singer perform karaoke. All the elements were in place, but a certain spark just seemed to be missing. And, on a less abstract level, during quieter moments in the music, a soft but distracting hiss from the recording became evident.

The other element that was notably lacking was an audience. For Saturday's matinee, TBPAC's Ferguson Hall was much less than half-full.

The people who could have been sitting in all those empty seats missed something beautiful. The 32-year-old Orlando Ballet has grown greatly in artistry and reputation under artistic director Bruce Marks and his predecessor Fernando Bujones, and its staging of Swan Lake can only enhance its status.

The lead roles - the young prince Siegfried and the dual part of Odette and her "evil twin" Odile - were cast differently for the three Tampa performances. In the Saturday matinee, Andres Estevez was a passionate but dignified Siegfried, and Zoica Tovar was delicate if just a bit overwrought as Odette. Tovar seemed to come truly to life in her performance as Odile, whom she imbues with a lust and passion. The contrast between the two characters was one of the most remarkable elements in Tovar's performance.

There was not a bad, or even unexceptional, performance in the entire large cast and some of the most striking moments came during moments featuring the ensemble.

The sets and costumes by Peter Farmer were unforgettable, especially the palatial ballroom of the third act, with its deep wood tones and wondrous use of perspective.