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BSO and Folger, Star-Crossed

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Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet (chor. L. Lavrovsky), D. Vishneva, V. Shklyarov, Mariinsky Theater, V. Gergiev

(released on October 14, 2014)
MAR0552 | 152 min
Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet was last seen in Washington from the Mariinsky Ballet in 2007. Orchestras play the score more regularly in concert form, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has now used the score to extend its quasi-concert offerings: in the vein of its film screenings with live music, this performance, heard on Friday night at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore, combined the complete orchestral score of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet with excerpts from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

This sounds like a good idea, but it is actually a bad one. Prokofiev's music was not made to accompany Shakespeare's play. It lines up with the choreography of the ballet's streamlined story, adapted in Soviet Russia, and has little to do with Shakespeare. Worse, rather than having a few excerpts between sections of the score, which would have allowed the listener to focus on one or the other, actors performed their lines, with powerful amplification, at the same time as the BSO was playing. The cacophony that this created was most unpleasant, taking two beautiful works of art and forcing them to annihilate each other. There were a few effective moments, when one or the other work took a pause, or when the dynamics of the orchestra lined up briefly with a scene. By and large, though, it was rather hard, perhaps not surprisingly, to take in two simultaneous performances.

Some of the score was cut, to keep the run time down to around two hours with an intermission, but Marin Alsop managed to keep the numbers with mandolins, which are often cut in ballet versions. In spite of the circumstances, some of the actors made favorable impressions, including the noble but venomous Lady Capulet of Kelley Curran and the dignified/ridiculous Friar Lawrence/Nurse of Louis Butelli, who was so memorable in the Folger's production of Henry VIII in 2010. The orchestra seemed out of sorts, with one of the players even plugging his ears during one of the actor's louder speeches, and the performance of the Prokofiev suffered, although there were some pretty moments, too.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, A frustrating fusion of Shakespeare, Prokofiev from the BSO (Baltimore Sun, October 17)
Better to stick to the model of last year's Midsummer Night's Dream, by combining scores of incidental music and the plays they were meant to accompany. Helpfully, I drew up a list of such works to consider, which I publish again: Goethe's Egmont (Beethoven), Shakespeare's The Tempest (Sibelius), Ibsen's Peer Gynt (Grieg), Alphonse Daudet's L'Arlésienne (Bizet), Hugo's Ruy Blas (Mendelssohn), Helmina von Chézy's Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern (Schubert), Racine's Phèdre and Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris (Massenet), and Aristophanes' The Wasps (Vaughan Williams). These are just the ones I would most like to hear: there are many more, including several scores by Darius Milhaud.

This performance repeats this evening at Strathmore and Sunday afternoon at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore.


violinhunter said...

Bravo! I wasn't there but I can just imagine.

jcd said...

Sadly, I agree. Alsop said after the Saturday performance at Strathmore that they had made some adjustments after the Friday one. Unfortunately, an extra complication was that the voice amplification was initially so loud it echoed.

I would happily have seen either a staged version with no, or just incidental music, or the suite alone, with no production. I wish Anne Midgette's online title for her review had made it into the print version: "No, you can't do Shakespeare's and Prokofiev's `Romeo and Juliet' at once."