A New Way of Experiencing Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet

May 9, 2019

The Philadelphia Orchestra's recent, semi-staged version of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet featured much of the music from the ballet, with dancers from Brian Sanders' company JUNK often moving high above the orchestra. WRTI's Susan Lewis has more about how Prokofiev told the classic love story through music.

In the performance, music emmanated from the orchestra on the dimly lit stage; above, dancers sometimes seemed to fly.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin says the aerial dancers connect with the poetry of the music and the drama of the famous love story. They also enhance the sense of danger—which, he says, is also in the music. 

"Prokofiev's music is not always pretty. It's sometimes quite out there and edgy, whether it's harmonically or with different sounds, or with the orchestration and the use of the instruments." 

Prokofiev uses tenor saxophone, an instrument rarely heard in an orchestra. He highlights the clarinets, and uses other instruments in innovative ways. Yannick points to the cellos. 

"The cellos are having the lion's share of the lyrical moments and it's cello writing that is so difficult because [it gets] very high in the tessitura and that creates a tension which conveys, I think, in a very genius way the unsettling aspect of the story."

"You can feel right away that they are not allowed to fall in love, and that they are trying to hide this and live their life and their love in spite of all the opposition."

The presence of the dancers, in this production doing what appear to be very dangerous moves, also informs the performance of the music, says Yannick.  "It's important to be in the moment and get inspired."

From this music, Prokofiev also created three orchestral suites as well as works for piano. The ballet itself premiered in Czechloslovakia in 1938, in the Soviet Union in 1940, and has since been interpreted by numerous choreographers worldwide.

On Sunday, May 12, 2019 on WRTI 90.1, Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in generous selections from the full ballet, Romeo and Juliet, from a performance which also featured the dancers of Brian Sander's Company, JUNK.