Gliere's music sounds like it was written at least half a century earlier than it actually was. A composer who lived until mid-century, you'd never guess that he wasn't a contemporary of Tchaikovsky. His ballet music has the same Romantic sheen to it, with sweeping violin melodies and characterful individual dances. What he lacks is Tchaikovsky's sense of symphonic continuity, but his sense of dramatic timing seems to have been spot on, at least as far as this work is concerned. The only part of it that's at all well known is the "Russian Sailors' Dance," but there's lots more besides that's every bit as entertaining, so all credit to Naxos for giving us the complete work in such a fine performance at budget price. --David Hurwitz
The ballet takes place at a seaport in 1920s-era Kuomintang China. A ship carrying sailors from many lands, including Russia is docked in a Chinese seaport. The captain notices a group of half-starved, overworked Coolies being brutally driven to work even harder by their cruel harbormaster. One night while dancing for the sailors aboard the ship, the beautiful Tao-Hoa (Pinyin: Taohua) notices a Russian captain trying to rescue the poor Coolies from the port commander. Impressed by the captain's act of kindness she gives him a red poppy as a symbol of her love. When Tao's employer, Li Shan-Fu learns of this, he is jealous and orders her to kill the captain. She refuses, sacrifices her life for the captain's, and is later killed by her employer when a riot breaks out on the dock. As she dies, she gives another red poppy flower to a young Chinese girl as a sign of love and freedom.