John Cranko (1927-1973) was a master of the story ballet. Though his work might have been considered anachronistic at a time when Neo-classicism had taken choreographic hold with the dominance of George Balanchine, Cranko's dance dramas have enjoyed enduring success.
For the musical setting for The Lady and the Fool, Mackerras turned to the music of Verdi, extracting less familiar music from fifteen of his operas. He managed to fashion a particulary effective score for the somewhat darker mood of this second collaboration with Cranko, who provided both the scenario and the choreography.
The Lady and the Fool premiered in Oxford on 25 February 1954, the London premiere taking place at Sadler's Wells Theatre just a month later. It did not enjoy immediate success. Cranko's choreography for the corps de ballet in the central ballroom scene lacked his usual inventiveness; he seemed to be creatively coasting. And he was not helped by his designer, who had worked mostly as a painter and had little experience in the theatre arts. Cranko had the opportunity to rework the ballet for a Covent Garden opening on 9 July 1955 and it was much more tightly focused. Some of the ancllary characters were dropped completely, helping to emphasise the relationships among the principal protagonists. The décor was also greatly improved, and the orchestra was augmenting, resulting in a more luxurious soundscape.
The three main characters in The Lady and the Fool are two itinerant clowns, Moondog and Bootface, and La Capricciosa, a masked beauty. Moondog and Bootface have fallen asleep on a bench near the palace of Signor Midas. La Capricciosa passes the clowns on her way to the palace, where a ball is being held, and she invites them to join her.
At the masked ball, the clowns entertain the guests while La Capricciosa is pursued by three of Signor Midas' aristocratic guests, but she rejects them, and when she is finally alone, she removes her mask as Moondog enters the ballroom. He instantly falls in love with her and she with him, much to the consternation of her other suitors and of Bootface, who has unsuccessfully tried to attract some of the debutantes at the ball. La Capricciosa and Moondog leave together, but return to take Bootface with them. In the final scene, the trio returns to the bench where the clowns were sleeping earlier and curls up to sleep as the curtains falls.
Source: Ernie Gilbert/ICA
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