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.


jondrytay said...

Interested to hear what you thought of A Single Man. I don't think I've ever seen such a stunningly made film (and, unsurprisingly, Tom Ford knows how to make men look beautiful) but I didn't come close to crying, and I suspect I was supposed to.

David said...

Will have to wait, I'm afraid, Jon (I'm sure you and the mighty reading public can hang on). Dull and drear, this afternoon put us off strolling southwards to Fulham/Chelsea or northwards to Notting Hill, which was part of the intended exercise. Probably we'll go tomorrow.

JVaughan said...

It regretably is as you have stated, though there are at least two Rozhdestvensky DVD's on US Amazon. Since the visuals would not be a factor for me, are either of these perchance of your recommended audio performance, or, if not, do they feature the same interpretive perceptiveness in equal measure?

I heard some Melodiya recordings on, primarily, monaural radios, but from at least the late 70's onward, would not buy Soviet nor Eastern Block recordings, though I did receive Maestro Sawallisch's rather-fine German _Elijah_ from Leipzig as a birthday present in 1970. At least I need have no such scruples now!

J. V.

David said...

I'm not sure which DVDs you mean, but if one is the Lavrovsky/Arnshtam film, it does have Ulanova, but musically and dramatically it's a mess. How proud GR must have been to go into the studio and redeem what he'd been compelled to sanction with an utterly complete recording.

The Melodiya CDs are to be found on various sites, I'm told. Oddly not (yet) Amazon.

JVaughan said...

Thus far the only CD copy I have been able to find, and there is only one, is from an Amazon.De seller, at 24.89 Euros. Since the banks are closed today for President's Day, I would not be able to get an approximate exchange rate until tomorrow at the earliest, so as to make a hopefully-prudent financial choice. has an LP copy, and US Arkivmusic seems not to have it at all. also had that DVD you doubtless rightly rejected. I might also do well to check a couple or more local shops that still carry CD's, thus saving international P&P, though some of that would be made up for in sales tax.

J. V.

David said...

You should try the excellent Presto Classical site, where it retails for about £18. Don't know if this link works, but here it is:

Good luck!

Piala Murray said...

Dear David,

Alessandra Ferri is THE best Juliet of all time - no, but don't worry, that is me having been so stunned by her performance many months back on DVD, that I am being wholly partial. It was the Teatro alla Scale production, and I hated everything else about it.

But I was wondering if you ever went into the Russian Studies Centre at Goldsmith College at all while writing your book on Prokofiev? As the other day, I found they have a display wall on him there with reproductions of some of the items from their archive. I couldn't believe the beauty and tenderness with which he expressed some of his feelings on two displayed letters - one in French, and the other, in English! "Love for Three Oranges" I think had just been put on at Chicago?- and not to any great acclaim.
Well, that's my REAL proper introduction to the world of Prokofiev.

These people are the best.

PS: Plus please don't worry too much about having not done Russian as your degree. It's sounds like you're asking an awful lot of yourself. I regret doing my English Degree as it totally mucked me up financially without the personal capabilities after to overcome it. But then I'd be shaking if I had NEVER read Virginia Woolf, or NEVER studied in detail through the plays of Shakespeare. But then now I'm shaking that I've NEVER played through a piece by Prokifiev. The basic thing is, that I think you'll never win, as it's just too overwhelming.
It's like hoping for a more perfect - and narrower, world - which others might want, but that's a ghastly place.


David said...

Wise words as ever, Piala. I agree, I warm to Ferri the most of all the Juliets I've seen, though Rojo is very fine and I need to see Fonteyn again.

Did I ever go into Goldsmiths? I LIVED there for two years, working my way through the 40 boxes of photopied everything that Lina Prokofiev lodged in the Serge Prokofiev Archive (which is separate from the Centre for Russian Music, but interconnected). And I met and got to know a remarkable lady who has become one of the most inspirational people in my life, Noelle Mann.

If you like what you read, I think you'll also grow to love the man I came to know through the letters in Vol. 1. In spite of what people say, he was a Mensch (or a real man, as I won't render in Russian). Next time we meet...