Some will recognise the ‘Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia’ as the theme tune for the long-running 1970s TV series, The Onedin Line, younger listeners perhaps for its appearance in the animated film Ice Age: The Meltdown. However, it was originally written as part of a ballet, Spartacus, by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian in 1954. The Adagio, with its sweeping, romantic melody, comes at the dramatic moment in the ballet when the eponymous hero, the leader of a (doomed) slave uprising against the Romans, is reunited with his wife, Phrygia. The theme of the ballet has been interpreted by some as a covert reference to the Russians rebelling against their own oppressive Soviet leaders – Khachaturian himself had been officially denounced as a ‘formalist’ and his music dubbed ‘anti-people’ in 1948 (although his name was later restored).
The ballet was first staged by the Kirov in Leningrad (now St Petersburg), but only with limited success as the choreographer, Leonid Yakobson, controversially shunned the use of pointe. It was the 1968 production at the Bolshoi in Moscow that was so successful that it was toured to Covent Garden the following year. The ballet has remained part of the Bolshoi repertoire ever since – the original 1968 production being reprised at the Royal Opera House only last August.
Willo Horsbrugh, 2nd Violin.