PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet
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Sergey Prokofiev(1891 - 1953)
Romeo and Juliet, Ballet (Highlights)
Cinderella Suite No.1, Op. 107
Sergey Prokofiev was born in 1891 at Sontsovka in the Ukraine,the son of a prosperous estate manager. An only child, his musical talents were fosteredby his mother, a cultured amateur pianist, and he tried his hand at composition at the ageof five, later being tutored at home by the composer Gli?¿re. In 1904, on the advice ofGlazunov, his parents allowed him to enter the St Petersburg Conservatory, where hecontinued his studies as a pianist and as a composer until 1914, owing more to theinfluence of senior fellow-students Asafyev and Myaskovsky than to the older generation ofteachers, represented by Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Even as a student Prokofiev had begun to make his mark as acomposer, arousing enthusiasm and hostility in equal measure, and inducing Glazunov, nowdirector of the Conservatory, to walk out of a performance of The Scythian Suite, fearing for his sense of hearing.
During the war he gained exemption from military service by enrolling as an organ studentand after the Revolution was given permission to travel abroad, at first to America,taking with him the scores of The Scythian Suite, arrangedfrom a ballet originally commissioned by Dyagilev, the Classicalsymphony and his first Violin Concerto.
Unlike Stravinsky and Rachmaninov, Prokofiev had left Russiawith official permission and with the idea of returning home sooner or later. His stay inthe United States of America was at first successful. He appeared as a solo pianist andwrote the opera The Love for Three Oranges forthe Chicago Opera. By 1920, however, he had begun to find life more difficult and moved toParis, where he re-established contact with Dyagilev, for whom he revised The Tale of the Buffoon, a ballet successfullymounted in 1921. He spent much of the next sixteen years in France, returning from time totime to Russia, where his music was still acceptable.
In 1936 Prokofiev decided to settle once more in his nativecountry, taking up residence in Moscow in time for the first official onslaught on musicthat did not sort well with the political and social aims of the government, aimed inparticular at the hitherto successful opera A LadyMacbeth of the Mtsensk Districtby Shostakovich. Twelve years later the name ofProkofiev was to be openly joined with that of Shostakovich in an even more explicitcondemnation of formalism, with particular reference now to Prokofiev's opera War and Peace. He died in 1953 on the same day asJoseph Stalin, and thus never benefited from the subsequent relaxation in official policyto the arts.
As a composer Prokofiev was prolific. His operas include theremarkable Fiery Angel, first performed inits entirety in Paris the year after his death, with ballet-scores in Russia for Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. The last of his seven symphonies wascompleted in 1952, the year of his unfinished sixth piano concerto. His piano sonatas forman important addition to the repertoire, in addition to his songs and chamber music,film-scores and much else, some works overtly serving the purposes of the state. In stylehis music is often astringent in harmony, but with a characteristica1ly Russian turn ofmelody and, whatever Shostakovich may have thought of it, a certain idiosyncratic gift fororchestration that gives his instrumental music a particular piquancy.
The ballet Romeo and Juliet,based on Shakespeare's play, was suggested to Prokofiev during a visit toRussia in 1934 on the suggestion of the stage-director Sergey Radlov, who had staged thefirst Russian performance of The Love for Three Orangesin Leningrad in 1926. Radlov was artistic director of the Leningrad StateAcademic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, which in late 1934 became the Kirov Theatre, afterthe assassination of Sergey Kirov, party secretary in the Leningrad area and later amember of the Politburo. The murder of Kirov brought the beginning of the Great Purge andthere were swift changes in the Leningrad Theatre that led to the rejection of Prokofiev'sproposed ballet, which was then taken up by the Bolshoy in Moscow.
Prokofiev completed the piano score in a relatively short time,occupying himself with the work during the summer months of 1935 spent at Tarussa, whereother members of the Bolshoy Theatre had holiday accommodation. By October he had startedwork on the orchestration, but when he played the music through in Moscow to the dancersthey pronounced it undanceable. More sensibly they insisted that the happy ending thatProkofiev had proposed should be replaced by the original Shakespearean tragic conclusionand the death of the lovers, an episode the composer had at first considered impossible ina ballet.
In the event music from Romeoand Juliet was given concert performance in Russia before the ballet could bestaged there. The first production was, in fact, in the Moravian provincial capital ofBrno in December 1938. Thirteen months later it was danced at the Kirov, with Ulanova asJuliet and Sergeyev as Romeo. The choreography was by Lavrovsky, who annoyed the composerby making changes in the score without previous consultation, a procedure very differentfrom that of the reputedly dictatorial Dyagilev, who had always discussed matters with hiscomposers and choreographers. The Kirov took the production to Moscow, where, in 1946, itbecame part of the Bolshoy repertoire.
The three suites that Prokofiev arranged from the completeballet do not follow the order of events in the tragedy itself. The present recordingmakes use of excerpts from the suites of what is, after all, a very episodic ballet,re-ordered as far as possible in the original dramatic form. This opens with Romeo at thefountain, taken from the Introduction and the second number of the complete, ballet score.
This is followed by the introduction of Tybalt, a Capulet and sworn enemy to Romeo and theMontagues. The Morning Dance from Act Ifollows. The young heroine Juliet is shown in an ante-room in the Capulet house, with hernurse, an amiable busybody. The Capulet's guests arrive at the ball to the sound of aMinuet, proceeding to the Masks, and the intrusion of Romeo and his friends, enemies ofthe house in their endless feuding. The episode generally known as Montagues and Capuletsis the Prince's Order and the Dance of the Knights at the Capulet ball, where Juliet,dancing with her betrothed , Paris, first sees her Romeo. The famous Balcony Scene, in which Romeo declares himself toJuliet, and the Love Dance follow thedeparture of the guests. When Mercutio, Romeo's friend and kinsman, is killed, Romeo iscompelled to take revenge by killing the murderer, Juliet's kinsman tybalt, thusprecipitating the final tragedy. Romeo is banished from Verona in this final scene of thesecond act.
In the third act Friar Laurence tries to help the couple and ishere visited by Romeo. The Friar gives Juliet a potion which, if taken, will give theappearance of death. By feigning death she will be able to avoid marriage to Paris, amatch on which her parents insist. The parting of the lovers combines the scene inJuliet's chamber, the farewell itself and an Interlude. In the Epilogue Romeo, who knowsnothing of the plot, returns secretly from banishment and finds Juliet seemingly dead andlaid in the tomb. The music for Romeo at the tomb of Juliet is that for Juliet's funeralin the complete ballet. In grief he takes his own life and when Juliet revives and findsher lover dead she follows his example, stab