Libretto by Yuri Grigorovich after the novel of the same name by Raffaello Giovagnolli, ideas from the scenario by Nikolai Volkov used
Presented with two intervals. Synopsis
The military machine of imperial Rome, led by Crassus, wages a cruel campaign of conquest, destroying everything in its path. Among the chained prisoners, who are doomed to slavery, are Spartacus and Phrygia.
Spartacus is in despair. Born a free man, he is now a slave in chains.
The Slave Market.
Slave dealers separate the men and women prisoners for sale to rich Romans. Spartacus is parted from Phrygia.
Phrygia is overcome with grief. She thinks with horror of the terrifying ordeals that lie ahead of her.
Orgy at Crassus’s Palace.
Mimes and courtesans entertain the guests, making fun of Phrygia, Crassus’s new slave. Aegina draws Crassus into a frenzied, bacchanalian dance. Drunk with wine and passion, Crassus demands a spectacle. Two gladiators are to fight to death in helmets with closed visors, i.e., without seeing each other. The victor’s helmet is removed. It is Spartacus.
Against his will, Spartacus has been forced to murder a fellow man. His despair develops into anger and protest. He will no longer tolerate captivity. He has but one choice of action - to win back his freedom.
The Gladiators’ Barracks.
Spartacus incites the gladiators to revolt. They swear an oath of loyalty to him and, of one accord, break out of the barracks to freedom.
The Appian Way.
Having broken out of their captivity and finding themselves on Appian Way, surrounded by shepherds, Spartacus’s followers call the latter to join the uprising. Shepherds and populace proclaim Spartacus as their leader.
The thought of Phrygia’s fate as a slave gives Spartacus no peace. He is haunted by memories of his loved one whom he thinks of day and night.
His search for Phrygia leads Spartacus to Crassus’s villa. The two lovers are overjoyed at their reunion. But, due to the arrival of a procession of patricians, led by Aegina, they are forced to hide.
Aegina’s Monologue. Aegina has long dreamed of seducing and gaining power over Crassus. Her goal is to win him and thereby gain legal admittance to the world of the Roman nobility.
Feast at Crasuss’s Villa.
Crassus celebrates his victories. The patricians sing his praises. The festivities are cut short by an alarming piece of news: Spartacus and his min have all but surrounded the villa/ The panic-stricken guests disperse. Crassus and Aegina are also forced to flee. Spartacus breaks into the villa.
Victory! It elates him and fills him with faith that the uprising will be successful. Victory!
Spartacus’s Victory. Spartacus’s men have taken Crassus prisoner and want to kill him, but Spartacus is not bent on revenge and suggests that they should engage in single-handed combat. Crassus accepts the challenge and suffers defeat: Spartacus knocks the sword out of his hand. Crassus makes ready demonstratively to meet his death, but Spartacus, with a gesture of contempt, lets him go. That all shall know of Crassus’s dishonor is punishment enough. The jubilant insurgents praise the victory of Spartacus.
Crasuss Takes His Revenge.
Crassus is tormented by his disgrace. Fanning his hurt pride, Aegina calls on him to take his revenge. There is only one way forward - death to the insurgents. Crassus summons his legions. Aegina sees him off to battle.
Aegina’s Monologue. Spartacus is Aegina’s enemy too. The defeat of Crassus will be her downfall. Aegina devises a perfidious plan - she will sew dissension in Spartacus’s encampment.
Spartacus’s Encampment. Spartacus and Phrygia are happy to be together. But suddenly his military commanders bring the news that Crassus is on the move with a large army. Spartacus decides to give battle but, overcome by cowardice, some of his warriors desert their leader.
Aegina infiltrates the ranks of the traitors who, though they have abandoned Spartacus, might still be persuaded to go with him. Together with the courtesans she seduces the men with wine and erotic dances and, as a result, they put all caution to the winds. Having lured the traitors into a trap, Aegina hands them over to Crassus.
Crassus is consumed by the wish for revenge. Spartacus shall pay with his death for the humiliation that he, Crassus, was forced to undergo.
The Last Battle.
Spartacus’s forces are surrounded by the Roman legions. Spartacus’s devoted friends perish in unequal combat. Spartacus fights on fearlessly right up to the bitter end but, closing in on the wounded hero, the Roman soldiers crucify him on their spears.
Phrygia retrieves Spartacus’s body from the battle field. She mourns her beloved, her grief is inconsolable. Raising her arms skywards, Phrygia appeals to the heavens that the memory of Spartacus live forever…
Additional informationCharacters and performers
"Sara Kaufman, The Washington Post - review of the "Spartacus" by Bolshoi Ballet."
Bolshoi Ballet star Ivan Vasiliev brings depth, emotion to 'Spartacus'
The last time I saw the Bolshoi Ballet's Ivan Vasiliev, he was a bouncy 18-year-old rookie who memorably lit the stage on fire as Basilio in a weekend matinee of "Don Quixote." Now, having just turned 21, he is the venerable Moscow institution's opening-night hero in the title role of "Spartacus," believably commanding ranks of gladiators -- and our own hearts.
I bring up Vasiliev's age because I could hardly believe that the virile, seething Spartacus who unleashed a cauldron of emotion Tuesday at the Kennedy Center was the same young whiz who thrilled the crowd on pyrotechnics alone in 2007. It's rare to see such a young dancer labor over the dramatic dimensions of a role when simply getting the physical demands under control is a hefty task. But Vasiliev demonstrated, movingly, that he has ambitions beyond being the troupe's go-to dynamo.
Vasiliev is also slated to dance Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. But this ballet does not rest entirely on the efforts of its star. Four leading dancers bear nearly equal importance to the plot. In addition to Spartacus, the Thracian captive who whips up a revolt, there is his Roman nemesis and captor Crassus (on Tuesday, the noble-looking but wonderfully decadent Alexander Volchkov); Crassus's black-hearted concubine Aegina (cruel charmer Maria Allash), and Spartacus's teary wife Phrygia, also enslaved (Nina Kaptsova, lovely but not as earthbound as the others -- she seemed to have joined them from a colony of water nymphs). As impressive as they were individually, Vasiliev and Kaptsova were not a physically well-matched pair, however; he is a smallish dancer, she is long-stemmed, and he lifted her with more than a trace of effort.
No matter the casting -- ballet lovers, Russophiles and fans of the bright, unsubtle pageantry in Aram Khachaturian's music would do well to catch any performance before the run closes on Sunday. It's been 35 years since the Bolshoi last brought "Spartacus" to the Opera House, an absurdly long time to go without its miniskirted Roman soldiers forming cheerleader pyramids with their spears and shields. Those who remember it say that back then there was a lot more scenery-chewing. I wouldn't know, but the current production strikes an effective balance between juicy melodrama -- not too schmaltzy, not too dry -- and gold-standard ballet finesse to curl your toes.
It's the quintessential Bolshoi ballet, what one company representative described to me as their " 'Swan Lake' of the 20th century." Former Bolshoi director Yuri Grigorovich created it in 1968, one of the earliest of his many ballets and remarkable, at the time, for its spare, rugged decor, grandiosity of feeling and fluid pacing. Those attributes still set it apart. The elements of Hollywood camp -- heavy eye makeup for all, bangles for the Romans -- are just fun: You half-expect Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to stroll on.
The ancient world meets the Sputnik age here -- bare stone walls, stylized costumes that suggest togas and armor. It's a fitting frame for the linear neoclassical ballet style that Grigorovich deploys so well. At times the women, especially, seem to have jumped off a Grecian urn -- or stepped out of a Balanchine ballet. Yet while much of the ballet technique is modernized and streamlined, something you rarely see in a full-length story ballet, the dancers still deliver that bighearted Bolshoi expressiveness. The result is a work with a fresh, sharp edge as well as a dramatic and emotional punch.
The decor also allows for plenty of open space for clashing testosterone. The ballet launches with a crisscrossing melee of high-kicking sword-bearers -- Roman Rockettes, if you will. With Grigorovich's clever traffic management, you can believe the interweaving lines of male dancers represent legions of warriors. He's just as adept at crafting sweeping solos, and each leading dancer has ample opportunity to establish character and state of mind. Groups, too, have their own style. The Romans dance differently from the gladiators; they are blockier, more formal, while the enslaved killers move in a gutsier, freer way.
Grigorovich left the Bolshoi in 1995 but returned to oversee his ballets two years ago, after the death of his wife, the former ballerina Natalia Bessmertnova. Now 83, crowned with thick white hair, he was in the audience Tuesday and joined the dancers onstage for a flood of applause. Ballet manners are always lovely to see, and in a show of the best of them, during his own standing ovation Vasiliev stepped back to clap for the rest of the cast, and then saluted conductor Pavel Sorokin and the orchestra. Their vivid account of the Khachaturian score helped power the ballet through a mightily entertaining three hours. "Spartacus," you hold me captive.