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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Romeo and Juliet
Choreography by John Cranko
Lord Capulet: Reid Anderson
Lady Capulet: Melinda Witham
Juliet: Elisa Badenes
Tybalt: Robert Robinson
Count Paris: Roman Novitzky
Juliet’s nurse: Marcia Haydée
Lord Montague: Matteo Crockard-Villa
Lady Montague: Julia Bergua Orero
Romeo: David Moore
Mercutio: Martí Fernández Paixà
Benvolio: Adhonay Soares da Sila
Duke of Verona: Rolando d’Alesio
Friar Laurence: Egon Madsen
Rosaline: Rocio Aleman
Stuttgart Ballet and State Theatre Stuttgart Orchestra/James Tuggle
rec. live, State Theatre, Stuttgart, 29/30 April 2017 and 2 May 2017
C MAJOR 801008 DVD [2 discs: 220 mins]

In 1961, the choreographer John Cranko was appointed director of the Stuttgart ballet company. He set about building up the company, and the following year brought out his production of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. An immediate success, it brought him and the company world-wide fame and remained his signature work. It has been kept in the repertory. This DVD was made from live performances in 2017.

Prokofiev’s score is, by common consent, his best ballet, one of his finest scores and possibly the best full-length ballet of the twentieth century. However, like many great works it had a chequered start. Although written in 1935, it was not performed until some years later. Prokofiev revised it before the Russian premiere in 1940. Originally, like Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, it ended happily, but fortunately Prokofiev was prevailed on to restore Shakespeare’s tragic ending. The original choreography was by Leonid Lavrovsky, and this is kept in the repertory in St. Petersburg. Many other choreographers have tackled it since. I have seen versions by Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and Rudolf Nureyev, and there are others. Up to now my go-to version has been MacMillan’s, but this version by John Cranko now seems to me even better, and by some way the best I have ever seen.

For a start, it is well supported by Jürgen Rose’s set and costumes. We are immediately in the world of Renaissance Verona, with colourful costumes which nevertheless clearly differentiate the Montagues, who wear red, from the Capulets, who favour yellow. The story is clearly told and easy to follow. The dancers all act as well as dance, and every one of them has a personality which you can sense and feel. The choreography itself is wonderfully inventive and imaginative. There are many steps and movements which do not seem to me – I am not an expert – to be part of the traditional technique of classical ballet. The party at the beginning is as stately and grand as you could wish. The carnival scenes in the second act with their gypsies and clowns are full of exuberance, vitality and a seemingly endless stream of invention. The passages for the male dancers in particular are both athletic and elegant. I would single out the trio for Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio as an example: you get a real sense of them as friends, a group of young men who enjoy teasing one another and having adventures such as crashing the other side’s party.

The principals are nicely characterised. Martí Fernández Paixà as Mercutio is elegant and disdainful up to and including his death at the hands of Robert Robinson’s Tybalt, who is all brooding malevolence and resentment. Roman Novitzky’s Paris comes over more strongly than in many performances. His affection for Juliet is genuine, and it is not his fault that he is her parents’ choice rather than hers. You can see David Moore’s Romeo develop rapidly from young blade to devoted lover and then husband. The maturing of Elisa Badenes’s Juliet is even more sensitively realized. The older generation are nicely done. I should put in a special mention of Marcia Haydée’s Nurse, as she was the original creator of Juliet in this production back in 1961.

Since the music, at least in excerpt, has become such a staple of the concert hall – and I was brought up on the superbly virtuosic recording by the Cleveland Orchestra under Maazel – I had not expected anything very special from the ballet orchestra. However, I was quite wrong: they play with fire and precision, and conductor James Tuggle secures a performance which would be fine in any setting.

This is a live recording, made over three days in the spring of 2017. Applause and curtain calls are included. The ballet itself is contained on one disc, but there is a bonus disc given over to celebrating the eightieth birthday of Marcia Haydée. She went on, among many other things, to become director of the Stuttgart ballet, and here she is in conversation with her two successors in that role. The first of these, Reid Anderson, had been a dancing partner. He takes the role of Lord Capulet in this production, and is credited with its artistic supervision. His successor is Tamas Dietrich, who took up this position in 2018, after this recording was made. This conversation is in German, but English subtitles are available.

The camera work is always clear and easy to follow, with some nice shots of props during the scene changes. The sound is excellent. The booklet contains full details, along with plot summaries and biographies in three languages. I do not think I shall be playing the bonus disc again, but the main one is a delight and immediately becomes my reference version of this lovely ballet. I should say that one can get DVDs of some of the other choreographers’ work, but this seems to be the only one of the Cranko version. It would, incidentally, be the ideal introduction to ballet for someone who does n’o care for tutus. Very strongly recommended.

Stephen Barber

Previous review (Blu-ray): Rob Maynard

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