> PROKOFIEV Romeo and Juliet DVD 100246 [MB]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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PROKOFIEV

Romeo & Juliet
Lyon National Opera Ballet & Lyon National Opera Orchestra Kent Nagano, conductor

Arthaus DVD 100 246, region code 2 & 5.

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This is the third version of Prokofiev’s great ballet I have now seen on DVD – and immeasurably the best, even if it is sliced and cut to less than half its usual length. Warner have already issued the Nureyev production, classical and conservative in style and design, and suffering from the most lugubrious account of the music I have yet heard. It reminds one of wading through treacle. A horrendously cheap DVD release on Video Land Klassik (with just four chapters supporting more than two-and-a-half hours of music) purportedly dates from 1938 – yet is in such splendid colour (and sound) that this simply cannot be the case. It is, however, beautifully conducted, coming nearest to Nagano in setting almost ideal tempi for this work.

Watching this Arthaus release after either of those DVD performances is likely to prove both rewarding and shocking. Rewarding, because Nagano’s approach to the score is incendiary, with palpable electricity lighting up the inherent darkness of the production at every turn. Shocking, because this is the darkest imaginable vision of a great love story stripped naked and then weighed down by a post-war, almost apocalyptic, view of a Europe torn apart by hatred and ethnic cleansing. The Montagues and Capulets are more akin to the warring factions of Bernstein’s West Side Story than Shakespeare’s warring European nobility, and there is more than a suggestion of fascist thuggery operating very close to the surface of this gut-wrenching production.

Angelin Preljocaj agreed to create this production for Lyons Opera on the condition that he could use a considerably foreshortened score, a decision principally taken so the music would sit more comfortably with a ballet told as a political and emotional parable. However, in achieving this the scenes have been moved around in a bizarre fashion: in Scene 3, for example, No.35 (Romeo decides to avenge Mercutio’s death) appears before No.34 (Mercutio Dies). In the Third Act we have No 31 (incorrectly identified in the booklet as No 32) – Tybalt meets Mercutio – misplaced when what we really have is Juliet with the ghosts of both (in otherwords, No 44).

This complexity does not diminish the sheer audacity of the production values, however, evidently coloured by the backgrounds of both the designer and the choreographer. Those designs, by Enki Bilal, a former Yugoslavian comic book illustrator, are principally drawn in a bleak Berlinesque landscape of inescapable walls. They mimic in many ways the eclectic design that Fritz Lang brought to his 1920s film Metropolis, and there is also in this production an emphasis on the futuristic – particularly illustrated by the pseudo robotic nurses who hive around Juliet. With monochrome colouring, a pervasive illusion of darkness, and a threnody of extraneous sound (such as helicopter rotor blades) this is both everyone’s nightmare and someone’s depiction of a police state in action.

In choreographic terms this production is a millennium away from the staid artistry of Nureyev and Kasatkina/Vasilov. This is, of course, very classical ballet – and in all three productions it is difficult to separate the movements used in both Juliet’s Funeral and the Death of Juliet, so similarly are the dancers matched in movement between the different productions. However, when you look at how Preljocaj has choreographed the Dance of the Knights – for once aggressive, and not at all like the chessboard movements we always seem to see – you can feel the abstraction which this choreographer brings to modern dance. Entire bodies become balletic, even if the movements are predominantly minimalist. Rather than an all-embracing fluency of movement the division of labour is stark: Romeo and Juliet have a swallow-like freedom, whereas the guards and nurses have an automaton, almost mechanical presence.

Generally this is a superbly danced performance – Pascale Doye and Nicolas Dufloux tangible and emotive as the lovers. Nagano grips the score with a vice, and the playing is both lithe and exciting. Controversially, and given the passion of the playing, it is almost sacrilegious that Juliet’s death should occur after the music has finished. It is my only real point of contention in what is otherwise a superb production.

Marc Bridle

See also S & H Dance Special – live and on DVD (PGW & MB)
Coverage of the Rambert Dance Company begins a short overview of ‘the art of dance’.
Rambert Dance Company
75th Anniversary Autumn Programme 1, Sadler's Wells, London, November 2001 (PGW)


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