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DVD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Roméo and Juliet, Op. 64

  • Juliet – Natalya Bessmertnova
  • Roméo – Irek Mukhamedov
  • Mercutio – Mikhail Sharkov
  • Tybalt – Aleksandr Vetrov
The Bolshoi Theater Orchestra/Algis Zhuraitis
Choreography – Yuri Grigorovich (based on Leonid Lavrosky's choreography)
Recorded in 1989 at the Bolshoi
Arthaus DVD 100711 136 min 4:3 LPCM Stereo
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There are a good half-dozen DVD productions of Prokofieff's Roméo and Juliet, generally regarded now as probably the greatest full-length ballet ever written. I've reviewed two others, both on TDK. The first (entitled 'Dancer's Dream'), was really a documentary containing only excerpts of the ballet, and the other, led by David Garforth, with Alessandra Ferri as Juliet and Angel Corella as Romeo, had their strong points, but the former would hardly satisfy someone wanting an actual performance of the ballet, and the latter was a heavily cut version featuring someone else's orchestration (probably Pogrebov's). Thus, neither was far from an ideal choice.

This Arthaus/Bolshoi DVD starts off as the real thing, but it turns out there are some cuts here too; however, as if to make up, a few additions are made, like the passage derived from the Scherzo from Prokofieff's Fifth Symphony, on track 22. Moreover, the music is led by the veteran conductor Algis Zhuraitis, and the production, with rather barren sets but decent costumes and imaginative choreography, is certainly acceptable enough, especially with such fine dancing: Natalya Bessmertnova and Irek Mukhamedov, are excellent in the leads and the minor roles are danced beautifully, too. So, the choice should be a slam dunk here, right? Not so fast.

Zhuraitis generally has a fine sense for Prokofieff's wide-Ranging score alright, but every now and then he presses or pulls back the tempo most disconcertingly. For example, the big love theme, in the famous Balcony Scene, is taken so fast, as to give new meaning to the word 'breathless'. Yes, the dancers can keep up, but I'm not so sure about the orchestra, and I couldn't help but think that Zhuraitis supplants love and tenderness here with passion and excitement. All those feelings can be expressed in this music without such a pushy tempo.

The sound here, while decent enough, is not quite up to the standards of the better DVDs today, but the camera work and other production features are quite good. In the end, I would rank this above the other Romeos on DVD that I've reviewed, but far from completely satisfactory. By the way, the orchestral playing, as you probably suspect from comments already made, is hardly without flaw: there is a big trumpet flub on track 13 and many other imprecisions. Still, this isn't a bad DVD and is recommendable to ballet and Prokofieff mavens. I should point out, in all fairness, that those in attendance at this performance were very lavish in their ovations that night.

Copyright © 2005, Robert Cummings