The Nutcracker, Royal Opera House, London


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The Independent Culture

The Royal Ballet’s Marianela Nuñez makes a delightful and delighted Sugar Plum Fairy. She looks carried away by happiness, hugging herself at the chance to dance for us. She’s the finishing touch on a Nutcracker that opens with rough edges before settling down to sparkle.

Peter Wright’s production, created in 1984 and revised in 1999, is a firmly traditional Nutcracker. Julia Trevelyan Oman’s sets and costumes evoke early nineteenth-century Germany, a world of cosy stoves, ribbons on dresses and gilded Christmas angels.

Wright’s revisions can be messy, overegging the role of the magician Drosselmeyer, but it’s still a confident version. The transformation scenes are well handled, with an imposing growing Christmas tree, a snowy pine forest and a gliding golden sleigh to take the heroine Clara to the Land of Sweets.

On the first night of this revival, the opening party took a while to take off. The scene is full of small incidents, from Drosselmeyer’s tricks to the quarrels of the children, but the pacing was stolid. It wasn’t until the dancing dolls appeared that this audience started to warm up, with Emma Maguire brisk as the Vivandière doll.

There was some grainy woodwind playing from the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Barry Wordsworth, and a few bumps in the scene changes. The mouse battle had more energy – particularly from the expiring mice, carried off on stretchers with their paws in the air.

Iohna Loots is an engaging Clara, caught up in the wonders of her journey. Ricardo Cervera is a dashing Nutcracker prince, with a clean jump and secure partnering. William Tuckett is a warm, restrained Drosselmeyer, resisting the temptation to camp it up with his lurid turquoise cloak.

By the second act, everything had moved up several gears, with starry casting in the divertissement dances and brighter playing from the orchestra. Melissa Hamilton floats through the Arabian dance, partnered strongly by Gary Avis. Cervera joins Paul Kay and Ludovic Ondiviela for a very bouncy Russian dance. Laura Morera led a stylish Waltz of the Flowers, shading her steps with musical intelligence, matched by strong soloists.

Nuñez stepped in at the last minute when the scheduled Sugar Plum, Sarah Lamb, was taken ill. Her generous personality lights up the theatre, while her dancing gleams. She has a high, confident jump, effortless pirouettes and flowing line. Thiago Soares danced robustly as her prince, with vigorous stage presence.

Until 18 January. Box office 020 7304 4000.