Romeo and Juliet


Romeo and Juliet ballet. Music by Prokofiev. Libretto by Leonid Lavrovsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Choreography by Leonid Lavrovsky as staged 2013 at the Mariinsky Theatre under the direction of Yuri Fateyev. Stars Diana Vishneva (Juliet), Vladimir Shklyarov (Romeo), Ilya Kuznetsov (Tybalt), Alexander Sergeyev (Mercutio), Islom Baimuradov (Benvolio), Yuri Smekalov (Paris), Valeria Karpina (Juliet's Nurse), Vladimir Ponomarev (Capulet), Elena Bazhenova (Lady Capulet), Pyotr Stasyunas (Montague and Friar Lawrence), Nikolai Naumov (Duke of Verona), Grigory Popov (Jester), Elena Firsova (Paris' Page), Yekaterina Osmolkina (Juliet's Companion), Maxim Zyuzin (Troubadour), Elena Chmil and Daria Lomako (Beggers), Yekaterina Devichinskaya, Yekaterina Mikhailovtseva, and  Olga Balinskaya (Courtesans), Maria Adzhamova, Maria Lebedeva, and Nadezhda Batoeva (Tavern Girls), Mikhail Berdichevsky, Denis Zainetdinov, and Nikita Lyashchenko (Servants to Capulet), Ivan Sitnikov and Soslan Kulaev (Servants to Montague), Xenia Dubrovina, Olga Belik, Boris Zhurilov, and Anatoly Marchenko (Folk Dancers). Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra. Set and costume design by Pyotr Williams; directed for TV by Olivier Simonnet. This title includes a Blu-ray disc and a separate DVD disc in a "double play" package. Released 2014, music was recorded using 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling, but the Blu-ray disc only has PCM stereo output. Grade: C-

I understand this production is essentially the same as when it received its world premiere in Russia in 1940. The Great Terror was winding down. WW II had not yet reached the country. The Communist Party had total control over all aspects of life. All the arts had to support the "Stalinist line." Below is the opening set for Romeo and Juliet. This is a soft example of the "social realism" favored by the Reds in ballet (not to be confused with "socialist  realism", which you get by adding workers, soldiers, and politicians to the picture). Strangely, this monumental but plain and nostalgic-romantic look was also favored by Hitler in Germany and could be seen in at the time in Post Offices and other public buildings all over the United States. This look has been out-of-style for a long time:

Here's a close-up of the set with Romeo (Vladimir Shklyarov) out for a early-morning walk. The HD video is quite soft. Note also how flimsy and shabby the wood steps are. I have a hunch these are the exact same steps that Joseph Stalin saw when he attended this Romeo and Juliet 74 years ago:

Here are the tavern girls (Maria Adzhamova, Maria Lebedeva, and Nadezhda Batoeva). The Mariinsky Ballet commands an impressive number of beautiful girls and handsome men. But it looks like each girl has to make her own costume. Maybe this was appropriate in 1940---but today, the tavern girls should have costumes that look more authentic:

Even the beggar children (Elena Chmil and Daria Lomako) have costumes that don't look real (too clean):


Here's Tybalt (Ilya Kuznetsov) fighting Montague men in the square. His costume and wig are designed to make it easy for anyone in even the cheapest seats to identify the bad guy. As bad as the costume is, the expressions on his face are worse. They are the most extreme examples of overacting that I can recall outside the early silent movies. I think even Sergei Eisenstein would wince at this:

Montague (Pyotr Stasyunas):

Capulet (Vladimir Ponomarev). He appears several times in important scenes, but this is the only expression Ponomarev seems to have:

Tybalt on the rampage:

In Russian ballet, small scenes frequently take place in front of the curtains during interludes. Here we see Romeo center, Benvolio (Islom Baimuradov) to the left, and Mercutio (Alexander Sergeyev) to the right. The servants are Capulet men. Romeo and his friend debate whether to crash the Capulet party (which is supposed to honor the engagement of Juliet to Paris):

Below is Juliet's party for Paris. There's plenty of dancers on stage for this.  But they are still swallowed up by the huge stage. In this full-stage shot, there is a lot of space to the both sides of the seated dancers. Apparently Simmonet was not allowed to get his camera in closer so that the party would fill the entire field of view. When I see this shot in the HT, I immediately notice that it doesn't resolve much detail of the appearance of the dancers. Now look at the following screenshot which has the same view on the DVD of this title. It's hard to tell the HDVD from the DVD (both bad). One explanation for this might be that Simmonet used a SD camera for his full-stage shots. Another explanation would be that his HD camera was too far away from the subject to get a pleasing HD image. (You would have to have a 4K HD camera or better to get a good picture from this range.) Whatever the explanation, all the full-stage shots on this Blu-ray disc look like a DVD:

Center here is Lady Capulet (Elena Bazhenova) doing the Dance of the Knights at the party):

Finally, we get to Romeo and Juliet (Diana Vishneva). Vishneva has been dancing this role since 2005, and she is some 10 years old than this  Romeo. Never mind---she still looks and can act like a teenage princess:

Because two dancers would seem so small on this stage, a special background curtain is lowered to make them less dwarfed by their surroundings. The Vishneva/Shklyarov love-at-first-sight pas de deux is magnificent:

Juliet has just learned that the man she's fallen in love with is a member of the hated Montegue clan:

The next four shots are from the balcony scene. Again the dancing is marvelous. But the overall effect is ruined by cheap-looking pictures of foliage and a very noticeable scrim in the background. There's no excuse for this in 2013. The stage and video directors have to work together to remove the scrim or to arrange to keep it out-of-focus in the video:

Friar Lawrence (Pyotr Stasyunas again) in his cell with cheap costume, rickety table with cheap cloth not even straight, plastic skull, and Hong Kong flowers:

But you could forgive almost anything when you suddenly get a shot as beautiful as this:

The confrontation leading to the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. More slightly tacky costumes:

Romeo and Juliet as husband and wife:

Romeo had to flee the city. It's a horrifying situation, but Juliet is ablaze with the realization that she is now a grown woman responsible for her own destiny:


Another fabulous scene is the frustration of Paris when he presses Juliet with his sincere and honorable demonstrations of affection:

Paris still thinks he will become Juliet's husband, but suddenly it appears she is dead:

There's still about 30 minutes left in the ballet, but I think you've seen enough. I should mention this production appears to have all the music in the Prokofiev score. It runs 152 minutes. In contrast, the Royal Opera House version runs only 138 minutes. The extra 14 minutes support a number of short scenes that aren't essential but which you might like.

There's magnificent dancing and acting in this show by the young stars. There's also exciting sword fighting, cheerful folk dancing, and an imposing display by the corps at Juliet's ball (the "Dance of the Knights").  But these efforts are substantially diluted by old sets, cheap costumes, out-of-date personal direction, and  weak videography. The Mariinsky Orchestra is incisive, but its work is diluted by obsolete stereo sound. There are also 3 strange electronic noise bursts in the Blu-ray disc in the first minute of the program. This blemish is not exactly important, but it makes you wonder about Mariinsky quality control. Would you buy a new Mercedes with a scratch down a fender? 

This HDVD is not competitive with the ROH version of Romeo and Juliet with Acosta and Rojo. The Mariinsky Ballet is one of the big-time players in classical ballet. But if they want to sell their HDVDs, they will have to catch up to modern standards in showmanship, provide a sharp video, support their shows with5.1sound, and work on better quality control. Grade: "C-"