A Fairy’s Revenge

The Sleeping Beauty's plot hinges on the wrath of the vengeful villain Carabosse, who's so insulted at being left off the invitation list for Princess Aurora's christening that she crashes the party and curses the baby to die on her 16th birthday by pricking her finger on a spindle. This ancient fairy can really hold a grudge: not only does she lay the curse, she turns up at Aurora's 16th birthday party to make sure the fateful spindle is there, and 100 years later, she's still lurking around, trying to stave off a happy ending by taking down the Prince.

When David McAllister's production of The Sleeping Beauty returns to the stage in 2017, we'll encounter a Carabosse who breaks the traditional mold with her glamour and hauteur.

David McAllister envisaged his Carabosse as more furious than evil. Instead of being merely wicked, as she is in most productions, she is the Fairy of Wisdom, the eldest of the fairies. Her totem is the owl. Lynette Wills, on whom David created the role, recalls the "back story" he gave her: "Carabosse used to be the 'lead fairy' but she has been retired, unwillingly made redundant, and she’s not happy. When she’s not invited to Aurora’s party, it tips her over the edge."

Lynette Wills and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Jeff Busby

Carabosse is often portrayed as an old woman with warts, hobbling on a stick, but McAllister's villain is more glamourous than hideous. Gabriela Tylesova, who designed this Beauty, gives Carabosse a magnificent outfit: spiky, black, beaded with jet so that it glistens like a crow's feathers, with a dramatic ruff and a towering wig. Even her make-up is spectacular, twining over her cheekbones and up into her hair, echoing the tendrils appliquéd on her arms and chest. From the ballet's synopsis, we learn that Carabosse hasn't been heard of for some time. Perhaps she's been hiding out deep within the forest, becoming encrusted with layers of foliage, simmering in her bitterness.

Gillian Revie/Lynette Wills. Photography Kate Longley

Carabosse's retinue of rats, instead of the usual grey or black, are white, making a perfect foil for her. Tylesova imagined them as palace guards enchanted by the fairy, so they're dressed in tattered military uniforms and unravelling cravats. They help Carabosse torment the King's hapless chancellor, Catalabutte, who left Carabosse off the list.

Gillian Revie and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Kate Longley

Tchaikovsky's score for The Sleeping Beauty vividly evokes the characters on stage. For Carabosse, he uses the key of E-minor. The Lilac Fairy's music, in E-major, represents the other side of the coin; the music for the human characters is in E-flat. As our Music Director & Chief Conductor Nicolette Fraillon points out, the use of these closely related keys "underlines the fact that good and evil are both part of human nature. As an audience member, you don’t have to understand that consciously, but subliminally you do."

See Carabosse in all her glorious fury when we perform The Sleeping Beauty in Brisbane (opening February), Melbourne (opening June) and Sydney (opening November).

Lynette Wills and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Kate Longley