Tuesday, December 22, 2015

More Ranting about Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet

Because YES!!! Ahem. Today I'm sick. Not as bad as yesterday, when I slept through most of the afternoon and staggered zombie like through the evening... but still, not great. My throat is too sore to play flute and piccolo (ever try taking breaths on a sand-paper throat?), and I'm too tired to do anything but bum around and listen to music. And check my facebook status frequently. FREQUENTLY.
So I've been listening to a lot of 20th Century righteousness, especially Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet! Yeah. Sergei, welcome to my list of favorite composers! As you could guess from my glowing review posted a while back, I really liked this adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy. I almost liked watching this ballet more than I liked watching the actual play, but in all fairness, the DVD we got from the library was a REALLY dry production.

So anyway, I'm going to rant about some of my favorite songs from the ballet. Haha!

The Young Juliet (Act I, Scene 10)
In this number, Juliet and Nurse are preparing for the ball. The way we start out is energetic and youthfully dreamy. You can feel the excitement of Juliet as she prepares for the ball. But there is a second theme in this piece, one that is solemn and hints forward to the tragedy that this night of joy will ultimately bring.

Masks (Act I, Scene 12)
Things take a cooky turn as we swap to Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio sneaking into the Capulet's party! Wearing the titular masks, the three buddies dance to a characteristically 'Prokofiev' theme. The tone in this scene is sardonic and quirky as a fractured faerie tale, but is still essentially lighthearted and about some friends having fun. But that doesn't last long, because the next song is...

Dance of the Knights (Act I, Scene 13)
The high energy satire that dominated the last few numbers gives way to the violence of the feud. Though we're at a friggin' party, the music is heavy and agressive. This is probably to bring home the harsh reality that even when they're dressing up in party clothes and arranging marriages for their daughters, the families of Verona are living in an atmosphere of hatred that dominates even their festivities. And Holy Shnikes! The brass players get to flaunt their parts for all it's worth in this one! It's you're time to... wait for it... shine. Cuz brass is shiny, gettit? Sorry.
Ahem. A later part of this song is extremely delicate in contrast to the peasante main theme. This is when Juliet dances a graceful- but passionless- Pas de Deux with Paris, her fiancee chosen by her parents. This section features ghostly flutes, haunting clarinet trills, glissandi from the violas, and a steady rhythm reminiscent of lute strumming.

Mercutio (Act I, Scene 15)
The jokester of the trio gets his own energetic dance. I like the Col Lengo in this movement, and the darkly cheerful, blythe melody that is brimming with spirit and attitude. There is some goofy action from the woodwinds (especially the bassoon!) in the middle part, before we return to the fast main theme.

Balcony Scene/Romeo's Variation/Love Dance (Act I, Finale)
We start out very sweet and tender, but also kind of sneaky and quiet! Romeo has snuck back onto the Capulet's grounds in an attempt to see Juliet again. Kind of weird, but we'll give him a pass because she would probably do the same thing if she was able to get out and about. There is some 'awkward' sounding bits in the Balcony Scene, as Romeo meets Juliet again and makes an adorkable doofus of himself. This is all very sweet, but my favorite part is the Love Dance, when the whole orchestra is pulsing with the passion of the moment! There is even some (gasp!) subtle piccolo action! Yeah!! On a sadder note, we hear the first hints of a gorgeous theme that will show up later in a very different context. But for now, we can end the act blissfully.

Folk Dance (Act II, Scene 22)
Not much happens plot-wise in this scene, but the music is fun and energetic! Contrast between woodwinds and strings is played nicely.

Juliet at Friar Laurence's (Act II, Scene 29)
Juliet has arrived at the Monastery for her and Romeo's secret wedding. A radiant flute solo accompanied by soft strings opens this song, and later as the wedding takes place, a dignified and lovely brass theme dominates.

Tybalt and Mercutio Fight/Death of Mercutio/Romeo Decides to Avenge Mercutio's Death/Finale to Act II (Act II, Scenes 33-Finale)
So you're not a fan of all the lovey dovey stuff. That's okay because boy have we got some stuff for you here! First off, the melody that plays when Tybalt and Mercutio fight is a more heated reprise of the the number 'Mercutio' from Act I. Mercutio's death music is heartbreaking. A reprise of his motif from 'Masks' plays as he staggers across the stage, cracking jokes and making it difficult to tell if he's really hurt or not. But then he finally expires, and Romeo is blinded by rage and fights Tybalt to the death. The music for this fight is the same as the music from the fight in the first few minutes of the ballet- only it's heartpoundingly frantic. The running strings deliver so much tension, ending in a wicked dissonant chord and 15 (yes, 15!!) relentless orchestra hits as Tybalt meets his end.

Introduction/Romeo and Juliet/The Last Farewell (Act III, Scenes 37, 38, 39)
After the dissonant harshness of the Introduction, the soft delicacy of 'Romeo and Juliet' is almost jarring. The flute motif from 'Juliet at Friar Laurence's' is back, unchanged except for key signature, but in this context it's taken on a new tragic air. I love the effect of the rainy sounding strings. It's like you're in your house listening to the storm outside. The Last Farewell is a gorgeous Pas de Deux featuring a sweet viola solo that gets passed along to other instruments and builds in intensity. Each time it gets passed along it changes in character. When the viola has it, it's lithe and graceful. When the tenor sax and clarinets take it, it becomes glowing and romantic.

Juliet Alone/Interlude (Act III, Scenes 42 and 43)
Juliet Alone directly leads into the Interlude, and let me tell you, the transition is amazing and is one of those musical moments that sends shivers down my spine. The Interlude is a reprise of one of the themes in The Last Farewell, transfigured. The first time we hear the theme, it's melancholy. But now it's strong and absolutely soaring with determination, as Juliet decides she can't live without Romeo and decides to do something about the situation.

Dance of the Young Girls with Lilies (Act III, Scene 49)
After Juliet poisons herself to fake her own death, she lies unconscious on her bed and some of her girlfriends sneak in to decorate her room with flowers. I guess it's a wedding thing. This dance is light of step, like you'd move when you're trying to sneak around. The mood is eerie and kind of sad. I really like high-pitched violin solo in this part, and the percussion.

Juliet's Funeral/Death of Juliet (Epilogue, Scenes 51/52)
Urgh, so sad! Juliet's funeral begins with hauntingly quiet and high pitched strings setting the mood. The music is predominantly dark and almost horrifying as Romeo succumbs to despair and a now demented reprise of The Last Farewell plays. It's almost like the music itself is begging Juliet to open her eyes. In the version me and my sister watched, at that part, Romeo actually danced a brief Pas de Deux with Juliet's limp form. It was a really impressive piece of choreography, and very chilling.
Death of Juliet features a mature and somber rendition of Juliet's little motif that was introduced way back in Act I and has finally reached its most developed point.
In stark contrast to other ballet endings, like the overwhelmingly emotional and fortissimo climax of Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet ends almost silently.

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