Romeo and Juliet, Ballet by S. Prokofiev
William Shakespeare’s tale of the tragic love between Romeo and Juliet, the children of two rival families in Verona, has crossed borders, cultures, centuries, and genres. It has seen numerous adaptations for the stage, television, or big screen. The ballet Romeo and Juliet by Sergei Prokofiev is one re-imagining of the classic story that has achieved its own timeless status. Thanks to the Russian composer’s powerful and memorable score, the work enjoys regular productions ever since its somewhat bumpy first performances. The classic version of the Romeo and Juliet ballet was first produced at the Kirov Theatre (today’s Mariinsky Theatre) in St Petersburg on 11 January 1940, but the original premiere took place on 30 December 1938 at the Mahen Theatre in Brno, then-Czechoslovakia This season, Prokofiev’s masterpiece returns to its Czech roots with a new production in Prague.
The classic version of the Romeo and Juliet ballet bears the mark of Soviet master choreographer Leonid Lavrovsky. While preparing the Kirov premiere, Lavrovsky exercised extensive creative control that also included adjusting Prokofiev’s original score to better match his dance sequences. Despite the composer’s objections, the thus modified ballet was an overwhelming success and gathered international praise. A 1955 film based on the original production helped further popularise the work. Prokofiev’s many clever musical themes, such as the ominous arpeggios of ‘Dance of the Knights’, have long entered public consciousness.
The plot of Romeo and Juliet follows the Shakespeare play closely, with one major exception: a bombastic happy ending, in which the two adolescent lovers exit the stage in a dreamy, happy dance sequence instead of committing suicide. Courtesy of Prokofiev himself, this decision was controversial among fellow artists and Soviet critics alike. Ultimately, the canonical version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet reverted to the original tragic coda, but the composer’s initial version has recently been unearthed and produced a few times as well. This season in Prague, audiences can get the best of Prokofiev’s music together with Shakespeare’s original dramatic plot in one of the most powerful adaptations of the emotional, tragic story of Romeo and Juliet.