This is the fourth video performance of Prokofiev's Roméo and Juliet that I have reviewed here at Classical Net. My first notice appeared in 2004 with a La Scala production led by David Garforth on a EuroArts/TDK DVD (205007-9); the next year I critiqued a Bolshoi effort led by Algis Zhuraitis on an Arthaus Musik DVD (100711); and in 2011 I covered a Paris Opera Ballet production led by Vello Pähn on a Kultur/NVC Arts Blu-ray (BD2102). The best of these three was the Paris effort, not least because the other two were more severely cut and took other liberties with the score. This new effort on Opus Arte from the Royal Ballet is, like the Paris Opera production, nearly complete, and it features splendid dancing by the principals, with Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli making a splendid Roméo and Juliet. Really, I should extend my praise to including the entire cast of dancers, as they all turn in simply excellent work.
Clearly, this Royal Ballet performance is probably now the frontrunner in the Roméo and Juliet video sweepstakes, because it has the edge over the excellent Paris effort on two counts: the sound reproduction on this 2012 recording is better than that of the 1995 live Paris performance; and Kenneth MacMillan's choreography is, to me, superior to Rudolf Nureyev's. More about MacMillan and his work in a moment. Both the Royal Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet productions, as suggested above, contain a small number of cuts, and both shift some of the numbers around. Still, both give you almost the entire score: a complete performance of the ballet would run about two and a half hours, and this Royal Ballet effort times out to about two hours and fifteen minutes, with six additional minutes for curtain calls. (There are two brief bonus features on the disc as well: Documentary: Kenneth MacMillan's Roméo and Juliet and Sword Fighting: Sharp Points and Pirouettes.)
On the orchestral side, Barry Wordsworth draws fine playing from the Royal Opera House Orchestra. Tempos are moderate to slow, and everything generally sounds spirited and sensitive to the many emotional swings in this heartrending story. True, Roméo Dances for Juliet (track 17) and Roméo Dances with his friends (28) may both be a tad too slow, while the music following the Prince's Command (8) is somewhat too brisk. That said, the tempos always seem to work well for the dancers.
As suggested above, Kenneth MacMillan's choreography is imaginative and quite effective: it is especially popular in the UK and has received well over 400 performances from the Royal Ballet since it was unveiled in 1965. Indeed, and MacMillan, you'll notice from the cover, gets billing over Prokofiev, a marketing ploy I don't quite understand, but the people at Opus Arte must know what they're doing. The sets and costumes evoke a Renaissance-era sumptuousness and regality, and the lighting, camera work and sonics are excellent. This performance was broadcast live in various cinemas across the globe in March 2012. For those interested in ballet in general or Kenneth MacMillan in particular, or in theatrical Prokofiev, this Blu-ray disc should offer a high measure of enjoyment.
Copyright © 2013, Robert Cummings