Chris Moore’s Artist of the Week: Sergei Prokofiev

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Throughout next month, the San Francisco Ballet will perform the masterpiece: “Romeo & Juliet.”  Don’t let the senior fans that mostly go to these performances, deter you from going.  And yes, the price of the tickets will probably place a black hole in your account.  It’s worth it, you only get to love and live once, as Shakespeare poignantly said.

However let us be real here, choreographed dancing is for the birds; or maybe for the swans.  The real reason I want to go to “Romeo & Juliet” is for one of ballet’s most compelling scores by Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev.  Written in 1935, Prokofiev’s composition of “Romeo And Juliet” (Op. 64) proves as one of his beloved works alongside with his interpretation of “Cinderella” and “Peter And The Wolf.”  Originally the ballet actually had a “happy ending”.  Thankfully, people had the audacity to shun such an inglorious ending, forcing Prokofiev to return to the tragically beautiful conclusion.

One could listen to the whole musical instrumentation of the ballet, and still lucidly imagine the strife, the yearning and the compassion.  Prokofiev infuses so much emotion, optimizing all the string, brass, wind and percussion instruments.

Scene two of Act I of the ballet features some of Prokofiev finest compositions.  “The Dance of the Knights”, the scene when Romeo and the boys go to the Capulet ball, would initially think to be adventurous and exciting.  Actually, it is quite maddening and sinister.  The bass trombones, timpani and bass cello give a resounding and proud march; so startling, it is like a boulder being bounced like a basketball.  The violins waltz over the bass, but so nefariously, it is as if a goliath is raising the earth beneath an unsuspecting village.  Then in the middle, parts to a serenity, as Juliet first makes her appearance in the ballet. A curious flute melody perfumes the suite while a simple guitar and tambourine waft the sweet fragrance. Romeo’s knees shake under the violin’s pizzicato, Count Paris thinks he got the girl.  Finally Juliet and Romeos’ lock eyes for the first time, which gets quickly interrupted by the machismo of the Capulets; Prokofiev ushers in the terror refrain again as Juliet and Romeo stare each other down from opposite ends of the ballroom.

You’re wondering, where are the real sounds that burn passion to love? Of course Prokofiev saves it for the scene that marks the beginning of the end: the infamous balcony scene.  Harps and a celesta (a very pretty piano) intertwine Juliet’s yearning gaze.  But, lo, out of the night comes the bassoon feet of Romeo.  Cellos and violins go up the melodic scale as they finally embrace.  Sweeps of violins pronounce undying promises till they climax to their absolute realization of how infatuated the two are.  Their first kiss, but alas, their departure, brings the whole orchestra to a harmonious closure.

As you can tell, I’m a sucker for melo-dramatics.  Hey, “Phantom of the Opera” is one my guilty pleasures.  Whether youtube the “Romeo and Juliet” ballet or, hopefully, physically go see the ballet next month, Sergei Prokofiev’s composition will poison your heart for better.

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