Sergey Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop, conductor
Romeo and Juliet: Origins of the Ballet
Sergey Prokofiev composed the music for the ballet Romeo and Juliet, which was to become one of his most popular works, in 1935, but it took five years before the premiere could take place in the Soviet Union. Based on the plan originally drafted by the composer together with Sergey Radlov and Adrian Piotrovsky (who suggested the subject to Prokofiev together with other classic love stories as Pelléas et Mélisande and Tristan and Isolde), Romeo and Juliet was composed in conformity with the precepts of drambalet.
The drambalet or “dramatized ballet” was a new genre strongly supported by Radlov himself, as a reaction against the supposedly frivolous creations of Marius Petipa. Petipa was the choreographer of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, but since then his works have gone out of fashion. Therefore, Radlov’s purpose was to create realistic and psychologically plausible ballets. When Prokofiev composed Romeo and Juliet, Radlov had already directed two drambalets composed by Boris Asafiev: The Flames of Paris (1932) and The Fountain of Bakhchisarai (1934).
In September 1935, Prokofiev completed Romeo and Juliet, but, after Radlov resigned from the Kirov Theatre in June 1934, it was necessary to sign a new agreement with the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Moreover, the original happy ending of the ballet was a source of problems. Even though Soviet authorities wanted the audiences to be relieved, Shakespeare’s aficionados could not stand that the suppression of the lovers’ suicide. After a controversy against Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth, the ballet premiere was postponed indefinitely. The first performance (in just one act but with a new tragic ending) took place in Brno in 1938. The first Soviet production dates only to 1940.
Romeo and Juliet: the Performance
As in the recording of Prokofiev’s symphonies Marin Alsop has recorded so far, she adopts for Romeo and Juliet too a lyrical, quite soft approach. There is not excessively dramatic power or tragedy, but it is always a poetical, refined atmosphere that prevails. In this way, it is possible for Alsop to highlight the tender élans and deeply affecting feelings of this music and to make them the guiding thread. Of course, there are moments where it is necessary to show more energy, as in the famous scene that depicts the feud between the Montague and the Capulets, but here too the sharpness is immediately smoothed.
This does not imply weakness, however. Alsop conducts with remarkable self-assurance and elicits from the skilful Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (of which she is music director) some spectacular colours, that the recorded sound luckily preserves. Her performance is not devoid of incisiveness and originality and instead it is extremely varied and composite.
Alsop’s conduction is full of élan and energy without being excessively loud. From a certain point of view, this is a merit and allows to present a uniform and coherent work without the necessity to resort to annoying effects to achieve the same result.