Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Romeo and Juliet (Ballet) by Sergei Prokofiev [1938]

So we watched this ballet to kind of help us get a good mental image for the pieces we're playing in orchestra, and we ended up getting really attached to it. I mean really, this is a totally awesome ballet.
First off, the music is pretty good. Not all of it is masterpiece-level, but a good much of it is! Stand outs are...
The Dance of Knights; which we just covered in a post! This song is very oppressive, and mainly used as music during a ball at the Capulets, but it also reappears during some very tense fight scenes!
Masks! This song is kinda goofy sounding, and it plays during a fun scene when Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio are sneaking into the Capulet's party! On a darker note, when Mercutio is fatally stabbed fighting Tybalt, a riff from Masks plays, but this time in a somber key.
Before Parting. Omigosh, this piece!! This one has got to be my favorite song in the whole ballet, and plays during Romeo and Juliet's last pas de deux before he has to leave (this is after he kills Tybalt in a duel, and is subsequently banished). The strings sound like a rainfall, and it starts off with a very pretty little flute solo that repeats a few times, each with something slightly different. There is a really pretty viola solo, too! The pas de deux is closely followed by an amazing musical interlude that plays as Juliet makes up her mind to go to Friar Laurence and concoct a plan for her and her husband to stay together. This part is gorgeous, and has some really good brass action. In the suite, Before Parting and this Interlude are in the same track (as well as a later snippet that plays as Juliet contemplates and uses the potion), and it's amazing.
Aaaaanyway, I didn't think that I was a huge ballet fan, but I recently watched this one (obviously) and Swan Lake too, and I've come to really like some things about it. Like how much can be conveyed just through the combination of movement and music. There are is also at least one instance where the staging echoes the Shakespeare dialogue. At least in the staging we saw, I know there are two major choreographies for this ballet, and the one I'm talking about is the newer, more used one. Anyway, the way Mercutio's death was staged was so cool. Romeo and Tybalt end up on separate ends of the stage, with Mercutio in the middle. About to die from his wound, he struggles to keep his balance. He gestures violently towards Romeo, then towards Tybalt- as if to say "A plague 'o both your houses!", and then he collapses, dead. Chills, man. I got chills.
The following fight scene between Romeo and Tybalt was so incredibly tense. Romeo's actor was moving so fast, and swinging his sword with such raw fury and devastation- it was really good.

The Verdict: A
My only complaint with this magnificent adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy is that it ends with the suicide of Juliet, omitting the making of peace between the families. But as my sister pointed out, it would be super hard to do a talky scene like that in ballet pantomime style. So that's not even a huge issue. Prokofiev's score is wonderfully emotional and colorful. Listening to his other music, it seems that his dominant style is kind of wacky, but his quirky, modern style works well with the story and it comes to life. True, not all of the music is the same level of quality (sometimes it gets a bit random and weird), but the score, combined with the amazing choreography make this a really enjoyable ballet.

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