Sunday, 14 February 2010
Curiously, the Radio 3 Messageboard buzz about yesterday's Building a Library on the complete Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet - available to hear on iPlayer for the next six days - tends to have paid more attention to my two attempts to evoke the latest Royal Ballet DVD than to the ultimate CD recommendation (I've removed it in case you want to listen without knowing); they're all hurrying to find the latest filmed incarnation of the MacMillan choreography. Well, much as everyone seems to love the ballet, everyone loves Carlos Acosta too, and he certainly sparks with the fast-developing Juliet of Tamara Rojo, mobile of face as well as body. I couldn't find the stunning fight-tumble with handsome Thiago Soares's imperious Tybalt on YouTube, but the love-dance will certainly do. You'll need to click into the YouTube site to get the full screen width.
Many will say, why bother, when the classic Fonteyn/Nureyev partnership can be tracked down (though it's not currently available)? I'd say, for the close-ups, the unsurpassable company work of the Royal Ballet in 2008, and Boris Gruzin's pacing of the score. I did track down an alternative balcony scene, where the ramshackle sets and the blurry film can't disguise Nureyev's genius:
I'd watched the Acosta/Rojo Romeo and Juliet on DVD alongside a Scala film for a review in the March issue of the BBC Music Magazine. For the programme, I also investigated Lavrovsky's total mess of a 1956 film, worth seeing for the incarnation of 44 year old Ulanova's featherlight Juliet, and several others which I didn't have time to mention. Nureyev's choreography for Paris is stuffed full of Shakespearean detail, but doesn't allow for much stillness or poetry. The second act seems out of synch, since all the events described in the music happen a minute or so later in the action. You can't mess that much with Prokofiev's impeccable dramaturgical timing.
The Teatro alla Scala's show, though, I did warm to - the conventionally handsome Frigerio sets trump the now rather dated Georgiadis designs at Covent Garden. And while the corps is looser than its London counterpart, the Romeo and Juliet here are as personable as any. Alessandra Ferri, like Fonteyn and Ulanova, can still convince as a teenager; Angel Corella is a loveable Romeo, flashing lovely white teeth in the earlier scenes and living the desperation of the bereaved lover in the vault better even than Acosta and Nureyev. So very much worth seeing this clip of his death scene.
Well, I'm about to leave Prokofiev alone for a bit in order to turn joyfully back to Martinu and Janacek, though the week after next I'm back at the Royal Opera in the BBC box preparing for the broadcast of The Gambler, which apparently won't happen until May. I loved every minute of Richard Jones's production - but then I would, wouldn't I? For what I hope is a reasoned account, see my Arts Desk review with a glimpse of the extraordinary designs in three production photographs. I'd like to use a few more here, but the bizarre blog ban of the press office - opera, please note, not ballet - still pertains. This is the only arts institution I've so far encountered to act in such a way.
Some of my other colleagues in Apollo have written it up all too predictably: hard-working show, shame about the music. Prokofiev's retort in 1929 is dedicated to them: 'when they say there are no melodies in The Gambler, this isn't amusing but stupid, for I think that even the antimusical ears of these gentlemen will end by finding them'. Three cheers for forthright Sergey Sergeyevich. I couldn't resist reproducing here my favourite photograph of him in his jaunty youth - in 1915, in fact, the year he was working hard on the first version of The Gambler. Serge Jnr kindly sent me the image - credit of course to the Prokofiev/ff family - and agrees that it's the best.
Anyway, back to the ephemeral press. Casual accusations of second-rateness I found a bit more shocking. But never mind: Ed Seckerson understands both his Prokofiev and genius Jones, while I loved the flavour of Fiona Maddocks's Observer review. With style-aware, very literate writers like these around, such off-centre shows should thrive.
Just in case you still waver about dipping your toes in hot water, here's a clip of the climactic roulette game from a Berlin production directed by the maverick Russian Dmitry Tcherniakov. Misha Didyk sings Alexey, Barenboim conducts (a tad sluggishly). Looks intriguing (the DVD release passed me by completely - time to catch up).
Talking of style, we're off this damp and dreary Valentine's Day afternoon to see A Single Man, following a rave from friends and Gavin Plumley's riposte to Peter Bradshaw and his ilk who find it cold and vacuous.