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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Romeo and Juliet, ballet in 3 Acts (1935-1936)
Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan
Romeo – Roberto Bolle
Juliet – Misty Copeland
Mercutio – Antonino Sutera
Tybalt – Mick Zeni
Benvolio – Marco Agostino
Paris – Riccardo Massimi
Lord Capulet – Alessandro Grillo
Lady Capulet – Emanuela Montanari
The duke – Luigi Saruggia
Rosaline – Chiara Borgia
The nurse – Monica Vaglietti
Friar Laurence – Matthew Endicott
Mandolin soloist – Christian Fagetti
Three gypsies – Virna Toppi, Denise Gazzo, Beatrice Carbone
Lord Montague – Giuseppe Conte
Lady Montague – Francesca Podini
Juliet’s friends – Vittoria Valerio, Agnese Di Clemente, Marta Gerani, Daniela Cavalleri, Chiara Fiandra, Alessandra Vassallo
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala, Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala/Patrick Fournillier
rec. Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 2017
Filmed in High Definition; mastered from an HD source; picture format: 1080i, 16:9; sound formats: PCM stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1; region code: A / B / C C MAJOR Blu-ray 743604 [151 mins]
Anyone looking for a good version of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet for home viewing is somewhat spoiled for choice.
The two most recently filmed Royal Ballet performances feature, as one might expect, the signature choreography that Kenneth MacMillan devised for the company in the mid-1960s. Both are of outstanding quality. The roles of the star-crossed lovers were danced with intense passion by Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta in 2007 (Decca Blu-ray 074 3336, see review), while five years later Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli led another fine cast in a complementary performance characterised by a greater degree of restraint and subtlety (Opus Arte Blu-ray OA BD7116 D, see review). Both performances are also available in standard DVD format, though – as my colleague Dan Morgan points out in his review of the Rojo/Acosta performance – Blu-ray technology really comes into its own when MacMillan’s lively and colourful choreography is matched in full High Definition splendour with Prokofiev’s frequently ear-popping score.
Sticking, for the moment, with Blu-ray, there are a couple of other choreographic choices worth considering. In the final phase of his career, Rudolf Nureyev was most closely associated with the Paris Opera Ballet. That company’s 1995 performance headed by Monique Loudières and Manuel Legris provides a good illustration of his characteristics – both positive and negative – as a choreographer. I confess that I often find Nureyev’s productions to be rather small beer, but his many admirers will no doubt enjoy this Romeo and Juliet available as part of a themed boxed set (see review). Personally, I found San Francisco Ballet’s 2015 performance to Helgi Tomasson’s choreography much more to my taste. Its accomplished cast headed by Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan expertly delivers a compelling account of the lovers’ tragic story (see review).
Let us not, however, overlook the DVD format in which several classic performances may still be found. Of the older Royal Ballet accounts of the MacMillan version that have been preserved on film, a 1984 TV relay headlined by Alessandra Ferri and Wayne Eagling (NVC Arts 0630-19393-2) has not aged well and will probably be of most interest to Ms Ferri’s many admirers. To contemporary eyes, Paul Czinner’s 1966 feature film may not look too good either but it preserves the iconic Fonteyn/Nureyev partnership in the leading roles; it is therefere required watching for anyone who loves not only Romeo and Juliet but ballet in general (Network 7954387). There is also the DVD of the seminal – if slightly abridged – 1954 performance in which Galina Ulanova and Yuri Zhdanov dance to Leonid Lavrovsky’s original choreography (VAI 4260). Considering it en passant in 2003, my colleague Paul Shoemaker’s enthusiasm almost jumped off the page as he urged: “Faded colour and wavery sound notwithstanding, one must have this version! It is one of the greatest films of all time, and certainly the very greatest ballet film. Every frame looks like a Renaissance painting. The impact of this film is shattering; I could only bear to watch half of it in a day.” Putting to one side his italicised hyperbole and entertainingly exaggerated sensibility, we may still note that Paul rated Ulanova/Zhdanov and Fonteyn/Nureyev as the best-danced accounts of Romeo and Juliet that he had ever seen (see review).
With such an embarrass des richesses to hand, it might be asked whether we really need yet another version – especially one that features the MacMillan choreography which, exquisitely refined over 50 years, has become one of the Royal Ballet’s most immediately identifiable calling cards and is, as already noted, already preserved in two separate state-of-the-art recordings. Having watched this new performance from La Scala, Milan, the answer is, however, an unqualified yes.
Romeo and Juliet follows classical ballet tradition in juxtaposing grandly conceived scenes making full use of the corps de ballet – the ball at the Capulet palazzo, the lively episodes set in streets full of townsfolk, tradespeople, whores and impetuous young gallants – with others that focus intimately on a single pair of protagonists. While that balance is one that can vary from ballet to ballet, the emotional heft of Shakespeare’s story ensures that our focus here is very much on the romantic leads and, on this occasion, we are fortunate to find them danced by two artists at the very top of their games.
Roberto Bolle celebrated his 42nd birthday in the year of this performance. Compared with some of his contemporary rivals in the role, that might be thought to be getting on a bit. After all, 42 was the exact same age at which the Royal Ballet’s Carlos Acosta chose to leave the classical ballet stage altogether, while San Francisco’s Davit Karapetyan was only in his mid 30s when he brought his own dancing career to a close. Mr. Bolle, however, is blessed with looks that continue to belie his years, a physique that still exhibits the strength and stamina required to carry off his leading roles, a more than half-decent acting ability and an utterly secure mastery of ballet technique. All those qualities are certainly on display in this performance and, if his interpretation downplays impulsive youthful passion, he more than makes up for that in conveying his character’s depth of feeling and emotional sincerity.
Even though Shakespeare indicates that the character of Juliet is just 13 years old, Margot Fonteyn had been 47 years old when she danced Juliet to such superb effect in that 1966 feature film. At the time of the performance under review, Misty Copeland was aged 35 – but her slight physique and the quality of her acting is such that, in the scene where we first meet her in the company of her nurse you could swear that she really is a child – carefree and impetuous, yet shy and diffident (albeit intrigued and curious) when introduced to her suitor Paris. Yet, over the course of the ballet, Ms Copeland’s Juliet matures into a character of real depth, so that her final moments, following her terrified awakening in the Capulet family crypt and climaxing in a raw, though silently delivered, primal scream directed at the audience and the camera, are incredibly moving – more so, I would say, that in any other recent account that I have seen on Blu-ray or DVD. Guesting at La Scala, American Ballet Theatre’s Ms. Copeland is also, it goes without saying, a very accomplished dancer. She is, moreover, a consummate artist who selflessly deploys her assured technique not as an end in itself but at the service of MacMillan’s choreographic vision. Each of her pas de deux with Roberto Bolle is most beautifully executed. She achieves the comparatively rare feat of refocusing the famously partisan Milan audience’s primary attention away, for once, from its charismatic superstar favourite.
Copeland and Bolle are very well supported by the full La Scala company, which is kept busy in cleverly and expertly managed crowd scenes. While an array of colourful costumes and attractive sets are a delight to the eye on the stage, in the pit the La Scala orchestra under the idiomatic direction of Patrick Fournillier supports the action most effectively. Lorena Sardi’s video direction is expertly achieved, while never drawing attention to itself. Her canny selection of long shots, medium shots and close-ups is appropriate to the action and unobtrusively ensures that no important visual details are missed. Her work ensures that viewers are both enlightened and engaged. Picture quality is, moreover, first-class, with no hint of the dreaded Blu-ray judder.
This new release joins a select few of those others mentioned above as a possible top choice Blu-ray/DVD version of MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. If any other filmed ballet production surpasses it in quality this year, I will be very surprised indeed.