Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (complete ballet)
In his liner notes for the Gergiev/LSO CD, David Nice wrote, of Prokofiev’s complete ballet, Romeo and Juliet, “this is a Wagnerian narrative that works in the concert hall—an opera without words.” I see what he means: the more I listen to the ballet, the more remarkable it seems.
On Spotify (52 tracks in all)
On YouTube: The complete ballet in the MacMillan production that had been included here does not appear to be available on YouTube any longer, though the balcony scene from a more recent performance of what appears to be the same production may be found here. I have retained the time stamps for the production originally noted here (choreography by Kenneth Macmillan/Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Boris Gruzin/Royal Opera House (2009)), in the event it becomes available again. Act I begins at 2:15, Act II at 1:00:34, Act III at 1:34:20):
Motives/Themes in the Ballet
The ballet contains many recurring motives/themes, which Prokofiev skillfully varies in orchestral color and harmony to create different moods. Two examples of recurring themes are listed below, with time stamps for listening to them on the YouTube of the ballet.
1:37:20 (Act III Last Farewell) at 1:38:04
2:04:25 (Act III Juliet’s Funeral) at 2:08:27
54:12 (Act I, Romeo’s Variation) at 54:30
1:37:20 (Act III Last Farewell) at 1:39:20
Orchestral Color in the Ballet
There are countless examples of elegant and inventive orchestration in the ballet. Without a score, it takes some time for me to find them, but as one example, listen to the way Prokofiev uses the triangle (in the YouTube, starting at 1:52:59) and celesta (starting at 1:55:07) in Act III, Scene 46 (Juliet’s bedroom). In that scene on Spotify, if you listen closely, I believe the triangle starts its bright pinging from the opening of the scene, and the celesta comes in at 1:40. (With thanks to Brian Long, our helmsman at the Great Composers Appreciation Society, for noting the use of celesta and saxophone in Suite No. 2, which I was then able to trace back to the complete ballet.)
Act I, Scene 13 (Dance of the Knights), also includes the flute motive contained in Juliet’s bedroom scene in Act III. (The scene begins on YouTube at 28:00. The flute motive’s first appearance in the scene is on YouTube at 31:12 and on Spotify at 2:49.) In addition, in that scene, Prokofiev uses a saxophone in one of the repetitions of the scene’s opening motive. The saxophone comes in at 33: 38, followed by repetition of the same motive, I believe on clarinet. On Spotify, the sax comes in at 4:32 in the scene. The balletic action that accompanies the shift from the flute motive to the opening motive on sax is interesting, too: Juliet has just pulled away from Paris and comes to Romeo.
10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op.75, for solo piano
Also thanks to Nice’s liner notes, I discovered Prokofiev’s 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op.75, for solo piano.
Comparison of No. 10, Romeo and Juliet before parting, for solo piano, with scenes from the ballet
In a typical “fools rush in” moment, I couldn’t resist trying to find matches for the piano pieces in the ballet. For (hopefully) comparable selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet on Spotify, click here. The tenth piece, Romeo and Juliet before parting, had me stumped until I realized it was taken from several pieces in the ballet and appears to be the same as the Romeo and Juliet before parting in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Suite No. 2 for orchestra, Op. 64ter (included in the Spotify selections I’ve linked and on YouTube here).
I marveled at the way Prokofiev took themes he’d used in the ballet and wove them into such a beautifully cohesive work for both solo piano and the orchestral suite. David Nice, in writing about the Suite in his book Prokofiev, From Russian to the West 1891-1935 (p. 330), noted that “‘Romeo and Juliet before parting’ . . . fuses five of the Act III numbers to make a powerful Adagio.” As best I can by ear and without a score, I believe I’ve been able to identify three of the five ballet scenes below (though I hope any Prokofiev experts among us will weigh in with needed corrections and additions).
On YouTube, the piano piece (to which I refer as “Lugansky”) is below. Ballet excerpts and timings for comparison are listed below the video. The complete ballet is on Spotify here, and the act and scene numbers indicated will take you to the relevant scenes.
Act III, No. 38 (XXXVIII) (complete); Romeo and Juliet/Gergiev/LSO
Compare Lugansky from the beginning with, on YouTube, the ballet excerpt starting at 1:22 here (hyperlinks to the segments are on the site):
Act III, No. 39 (XXXIX), The Last Farewell (partial), Romeo and Juliet/Gergiev/LSO
Compare Lugansky from 1:30 with the ballet excerpt starting at 2:41 here:
Act III, Scene 47 (XLVII), Juliet Alone (partial), Romeo and Juliet/Gergiev/LSO
Compare Lugansky from 4:52 with the ballet excerpt starting at 0:17 here:
Credits: The sources for the quotations from David Nice may be found at the links provided in the text. The photographs, as always unless otherwise credited, are mine. Thanks also go to David Nice for the recording recommendations. You may find his recommendations on BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library/CD Review here. While the program is no longer available for listening outside the UK, the recommendations are shown if you scroll down.