- Saint-Saëns, the prolific and multifaceted flying Frenchman
- Dvorak’s String Serenade: 5 bursting emotions fostering joy
- Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, or when tone poems are a delicacy
- Prokofiev, What would be your soundtrack for a well-known story?
Prokofiev’s soundtrack for a well-known story
Sergey Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet was written for the Kirov Ballet. The work was finished shortly after the composer’s final repatriation to Soviet Russia in 1935. The strong opposition and difficult circumstances that early productions met, as we will discuss soon, lead the composer to adapt his music to the concert hall instead. The 3 independent Suites, or collection of numbers, avoid a narrative sequence. Instead, although suggesting crucial moments of the story, they form a balanced combination for the concert setting.
Prokofiev conceived the ballet in collaboration with innovative Soviet dramatist Sergei Radlov, who reimagined the familiar tragedy as a struggle for the right to love by young, strong, and progressive people battling against feudal traditions and feudal outlooks on marriage and family. Prokofiev then set down to work, creating a score that involved transcendence, not tragedy. His idea diverged from perhaps the most recognized rendering of the drama: Shakespeare’s compelling play on the ill-fated lovers.
The so-called “original” story of Romeo and Juliet has an interesting genesis of its own. It seems to have been originated in the early 1300s and only recollected in written form by Masuccio Salernitano, a poet from the city of Verona, Italy. The following table gathers a brief recollection of the different adaptations that have been directly influenced by the tale.
Different versions through history
|Masuccio Salernitano||Il Novellino #33||Mariotto and Giannozza||Verona, Italy||short story||Italian||1400s|
|Luigi da Porto||Newly Found Story of Two Noble Lovers||Romeus and Giulietta||Vicenza, Italy||Short story||Italian||1531|
|Matteo Bandello||Romeo and Juliet||Romeo and Juliet||-, Italy||Short Story (novella)||Italian||1500s|
|Arthur Brooke||The Tragic History of Romeus and Juliet||Romeus and Juliet||London, England||Poem||English||1562|
|Lope de Vega||Castilvenes y Monteses||Romeo y Julieta||Madrid, Spain||Poem||Spanish||1590|
|William Shakespeare||Romeo and Juliet||Romeo and Juliet||London, England||Play||English||1596|
|Thomas Otway||The History and Fall of Caius Marius||Lavinia and Romeo||London, England||Play||English||1679|
|Theophilus Cibber||Romeo and Juliet||Romeo, Juliet||London, England||Play||English||1744|
|Hector Berlioz||Roméo et Juliette||Roméo, Juliette||Paris, France||Choral Symphony||French||1839|
|Piotr I. Tchaikovsky||Romeo and Juliet||Moscow, Russia||Overture-Fantasy||Orchestral||1869|
|Frederick Delius||A Village Romeo and Juliet||Romeo, Juliet||Berlin, Germany||Opera||English||1907|
|Sergei Prokofiev||Ромео и Джульетта |
(Romeo & Juliet)
|St. Petersburg, Russia||Ballet||Ballet||1935|
|33 Different renderings - IMDB list||various directors||Romeo and Juliet||USA||Movie||English||Twentieth Century|
|Leonard Bernstein||West Side Story||Tony and Maria||USA||Musical||English||1957 (movie 1961)|
|Frank Zeffirelli||Romeo and Juliet||Romeo and Juliet||USA||Movie||English||1968|
|Baz Luhrmann||Romeo + Juliet||Romeo and Juliet||USA||Movie||English||1996|
|Robin Maxwell||O, Juliet||Romeo and Juliet||USA||Novel||English||2010|
Evidently, each of these adaptations have chosen as many ways of telling the story as mediums and creators have actually chosen to tell it. In fact, even Shakespeare’s, perhaps again the most recognizable of them, has received “retouches” through time, altering the ending to accommodate a continuously increasing drama-oriented audience. If you have the chance to read Shakespeare’s text, you will be surprised to find out that Juliet does not wake herself up before Romeo’s last breath (even though it was a brilliant addition by an overzealous director), as it may seem suggested by any other rendering “based” on Shakespeare’s telling.
It is in this line of adapting a known narrative, that we say Prokofiev attempted to create a score that involved transcendence, not tragedy, actively changing the ending and transforming soul of the piece. What followed has no parallel in ballet history, in the words of Simon Morrison
The artistic climate in Stalin’s Russia darkened: in dance, music, and drama, timidly conservative neoclassicism supplanted exciting, accessible innovation. Not only was Prokofiev forced to rewrite the ending of the ballet – replacing the entire fourth act with an epilogue, he was forced to insert large-scale solo dances breaking up the dramatic flow. A divertissement involving three exotic dances in act III was scrapped for logistical reasons. The Kirov Theater dancers complained about the difficulty of the rhythms; the original choreographer, Leonid Lavrovsky, insisted on a thickening of the orchestration. As the demands piled up, Prokofiev became increasingly frustrated, but each time, he complied with them. The ballet received its Russian premiere in 1940. When Prokofiev saw it, he had a hard time recognizing his own music. He pleaded for the changes to be undone, to no avail.
…a struggle for the right to love by young, strong, and progressive people battling against feudal traditions and feudal outlooks on marriage and family.