This recording is the highly-acclaimed production by the Paris Opera Ballet of Rudolf Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet. Nureyev died in 1993, two years before this performance, and this is generally regarded as one of his finest choreographic efforts. Right off I can say this account of the ballet is splendid, with superb dancing by the leads, Manuel Legris and Monique Loudières. The others in the cast are excellent as well. The sets are imaginative and the costumes colorful and historically evocative of the period of Shakespeare's great tragedy.
While the dancing may be true to Nureyev's choreography the music score is not quite what Prokofiev wrote, as there are some minor cuts and reordering of the numbers. The austere brass music heard in the Interlude (#8) appears much earlier in this version, and Romeo at Friar Laurence's (#28) is followed not by Juliet at Friar Laurence's but by a shortened version of Public Merrymaking (#30). But enough said about the alterations here, because this is a reasonably faithful version of this great ballet, and in a performance of stunning quality. By the way, I should mention that the dance numbers I'm using do not correspond to the track numbers on this recording, since Kultur/NVC Arts takes the work's fifty-two numbers and combines two or three of them into each track to yield a final total of 19 for the performance, with a 20th used for curtail calls.
As for the playing, the orchestra responds with enthusiasm and real spirit, and conductor Vello Pähn's interpretation is filled with passion, fully capturing the love, the joy, and the tragedy of this timeless classic. Some of his tempos in livelier sections are a tad on the slow side, but never egregiously so. Thankfully, he does not rush the big love theme near the end of Act I the way some conductors do – Algis Zhuraitis in a 1989 Bolshoi Theater version on an Arhaus Musik DVD takes the theme so fast as to ruin the music.
While I'm on the subject of other recordings, I should mention a pretty good La Scala production, from 2000, featuring Alessandra Ferri as Juliet and Angel Corella as Romeo, in Kenneth MacMillan's choreography. It was nicely danced, but David Garforth conducted a version that featured a fair number of cuts, and worse, orchestration that sometimes veered away from Prokofiev's. I suspect it was the rendition by Boris Pogrebov, an orchestral percussionist and arranger who did a beefed-up version of the score, which Prokofiev had already beefed-up because the dancers preparing for the Soviet première had complained they couldn't hear the music!
Non-video recordings of interest include the Maazel/Decca, Previn/EMI and Ozawa/DG, which are all excellent and offer the complete ballet music. This Kultur/NVC Arts Blu-ray version features orchestral playing nearly on the level of these classic recordings, dancing of the highest quality and a sumptuous production. The sound is good and the camera work fine. Certainly, this must be counted as a major triumph.
Copyright © 2011, Robert Cummings