November 1999 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Nino ROTA Romeo & Juliet   from Franco Zeffirelli's Paramount film, Romeo & Juliet, 1968.  SILVA SCREEN FILMCD 200 [56:18].

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Since the dawn of civilization, when movies began to talk and became big business, there have been several screen adaptations of Shakespeare's most popular play, Romeo & Juliet. But the one that most readily comes to mind is Franco Zeffirelli's splendid version, made in 1968. A stunningly faithful recreation, the film, with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey as the star-crossed lovers, featured glorious colors, thrilling pageantry, a tear-jerking love story that already had defied the ages to become the ultimate romantic drama, and a grandly musical score, solidly anchored around a theme which, in no time, became a popular hit.

The years have done little to diminish the impact of the film, though it took this long for a definitive soundtrack album to finally be released. Originally, Capitol Records in the U.S. had prepared a soundtrack album in conjunction with the release of the film, which contained dramatic highlight and selected musical cues that were, at times, buried under the Bard's dialogues The success of this album eventually compelled the label to issue a full LP of the score, and a boxed set containing the complete soundtrack, both of which were subsequently deleted, never again to be seen. With the advent of CDs, the original album was reissued, with nary a touch of remastering, and matters remained as they were until now.

Rota's magnificent score, properly remastered and minus the bits of dialogue that detracted from it in its previous incarnation, is now back in the catalogue, thanks to Silva Screen's efforts, in a CD that restores it in all its splendor, and with the addition of a previously unavailable "Epilogue." Listening to it, one realizes how much our perception of Rota, as a composer, has been adulterated by his contributions to the films of Federico Fellini, the benchmarks by which we most often judge him. In his many scores for the Italian director, Rota usually let his musical vision parallel Fellini's, to the extent that they often became inseparable, in a close artistic relationship seldom equaled in the annals of the movies (the only other that comes to mind is the one that existed between Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann). One of the best examples of this synergy between visual and musical images can be found in both La dolce vita and Juliet of the Spirits, in which Rota's language became a second form of expression to the director's volatile style.

But, as he had demonstrated earlier in War And Peace, Rota could also be totally original and different once he worked away from Fellini. In fact, his greatest achievements in film scoring were for two films directed by others, The Godfather and Romeo And Juliet.

Perfectly capturing in the latter the essence of the Renaissance era, Rota conjured up images of a time gone-by, when two youngsters from feuding families could actually fall in love and die for it, in terms that seemed both of the time evoked and comfortably post-Romantic, quite a feat in itself (an interesting comparison can be drawn with another Zeffirelli adaptation of a Shakespeare play, The Taming Of The Shrew, a rollicking, lusty recreation that also inspired Rota to write one of his most engaging opus).

Giving the score its anchor is the well-known "Love Theme," which pervades it, and which sounds much less obnoxious and much more ravishing in this original context than one might have suspected after having heard it transmogrified so many times by hack pop singers and instrumentalists. But beyond that theme, what surprises here is the richness and sophistication of the entire score, as in the cue marked "Romeo and Juliet Are Wed," in which a boy soprano and an organ mesh to create a strikingly evocative image of beauty and serenity before the storm.

In this new CD edition, Rota's score finally emerges as the masterpiece it always was – quietly elegant, superbly shaded, and altogether supremely melodic, the perfect musical illustration to a perfect screen adaptation of one of the world's best-loved stories.


Didier C. Deutsch


Didier C. Deutsch

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