Sergey Prokofiev

Romeo and Juliet, ballet in 4 acts, Op. 64

    Description by Robert Cummings

    In the early- and mid-twentieth century, the three major Tchaikovsky ballets -- Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker -- were viewed as the three greatest full-length ballets. Not surprisingly, they were also more popular by wide margins than all other works in the genre. By the latter quarter of the century, however, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet had entered the trio's select company and remains exceedingly popular today. Some have even asserted it is the greatest of full-length ballets. Certainly, it is one of Prokofiev's supreme masterpieces and, via the three suites extracted from it, among his most often-played music.

    His previous ballets had been shorter and more pungent, like Chout, Op. 21 (1915-1920), and Le Pas d'Acier, Op. 41 (1925), which created a bit of a stir in Paris when it premiered. Both, along with The Prodigal Son (1929), were composed for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Romeo and Juliet was thus his first attempt at writing a full-length ballet, and while he would have further successes in the genre, most notably with Cinderella, no other stage work of his would quite approach it in popularity.

    Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, based on Shakespeare's play, consists of four acts and ten scenes, within which are 52 separate dance numbers. The work opens with a six-note motif that appears throughout the ballet. This same theme, cut to four notes, opens the composer's Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1950-1952) and appears elsewhere in its first movement. There are many famous melodies in Romeo and Juliet, foremost among which is probably the march-like theme that appears in No. 13, "Dance of the Knights." This music symbolizes the strife between the opposing families. A variant of it is played in the next number, "Juliet's Variation," where its character changes from the austere malevolence in No. 13 to innocence and playfulness.

    Another important and immensely popular melody is the love theme of Romeo and Juliet. It is a soaring melody in an arch-like pattern that exudes warmth and yearning, passion and grace. But there are many other memorable themes, including the joyous, rhythmic one in No. 12, "Masks," as well as the two in No. 22, "Folk Dance." Perhaps the most profound creation in the ballet, however, is the dark and tragic theme appearing in No. 51, "Juliet's Funeral," whose arch-like pattern is similar to that of the love theme.

    Prokofiev also quotes from his own Classical Symphony here (No. 18 "Gavotte"), using music from the third movement Gavotte. It is not for want of thematic material that he resorts to this reference, but to show irony: this post-Renaissance French dance is as much miscast here as the two teenage lovers who are caught up in an unforgiving adult world. Romeo and Juliet lasts about two-and-one half hours in a typical performance. It was premiered in Brno, Czechoslovakia, on December 30, 1938.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Introduction
    2. Romeo
    3. The street awakens
    4. Morning Dance
    5. The Quarrel
    6. The Fight
    7. The Prince gives his order
    8. Interlude
    9. Preparing for the Ball
    10. Juliet as a young girl
    11. Arrival of the guests
    12. Masks
    13. Dance of the Knights
    14. Juliet's Variation
    15. Mercutio
    16. Madrigal
    17. Tybalt recognizes Romeo
    18. Departure of the guests
    19. Balcony scene
    20. Romeo's Variation
    21. Love Dance
    22. Folk Dance
    23. Romeo and Mercutio
    24. Dance of the five couples
    25. Dance with the five mandolins
    26. The Nurse
    27. The Nurse gives Romeo the note from Juliet
    28. Romeo with Friar Laurence
    29. Juliet with Friar Laurence
    30. The people continue to make merry
    31. A Folk Dance again
    32. Tybalt meets Mercutio
    33. Tybalt and Mercutio fight
    34. Mercutio dies
    35. Romeo decides to avenge Mercutio's death
    36. Finale
    37. Introduction
    38. Romeo and Juliet
    39. The last farewell
    40. The Nurse
    41. Juliet refuses to marry Paris
    42. Juliet alone
    43. Interlude
    44. At Friar Laurence's
    45. Interlude
    46. Again in Juliet's bedroom
    47. Juliet alone
    48. Morning Serenade
    49. Dance of the girls with the lilies
    50. At Juliet's bedside
    51. Juliet's funeral
    52. Death of Juliet

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Naxos 857353435
    2016 Melodiya MELCD 1002430
    2016 Lawo Classics LWC 1105
    2013 EMI / EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099943330
    2013 Naxos 8505236
    2013 Profil / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 11070
    2011 CSO / CSO Resound CSOR 9011103
    2011 Decca
    2011 Melodiya 1000908
    2010 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996702
    2010 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996770
    2010 LSO Live 0682
    2009 Decca
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 Decca / Eloquence 4800830
    2008 Melodiya 1000909
    2008 VAI Audio 4445
    2007 Radiance Records 17649
    2006 Brilliant 7618
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 86254
    2003 Decca 436 078-2DH2
    2003 Decca
    2001 Philips 464726
    1998 London 4529702
    1998 Decca
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 68607
    1996 Naxos 553184
    1995 Chandos 9322/3
    1991 Philips 432166
    1991 London 430731
    1988 Deutsche Grammophon 423 268-2GH2
    1980 Tahra 117
    EMI Music Distribution 62843
    London 417510
    Supraphon 111949
    Conifer 55309