21 February 2008

what light through yonder window breaks

Cal Performances usually makes its announcement of the upcoming season in late April, but here’s an exciting preview to help make up for disappointments caused by other season announcements, and yes, I’m looking at you, War Memorial Opera House: they will be presenting Mark Morris’s latest evening-length work, Romeo & Juliet: On Motifs of Shakespeare, on September 25 – 28, in Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. These will be just the second performances after the July 4 – 9 world premiere at Bard College.

Here’s some intriguing information from a letter to the Friends of the Mark Morris Dance Group, sent appropriately on Valentine’s Day:

“This new production will be set to the original manuscript by composer Sergey Prokofiev and dramatist Sergey Radlov, recently discovered in Moscow by musicologist Simon Morrison. Forced to change his original work by Soviet cultural officials in 1935, Prokofiev’s manuscript includes a different ending from Shakespeare’s traditional, tragic finale and nearly twenty-five minutes of never-before heard music.”

Damn! Not only Mark Morris – a Prokofiev premiere!

Oddly enough, though I have, in decades of Shakespeare watching, seen R&J on movie and television screens, or various permutations of it danced by guys in tights and girls in tutus or played by orchestras or sung by suspiciously dancey West Side gangs, I have never seen a live performance of the actual play, though as with all of his plays I’ve read it many times. I haven’t exactly sought it out, but I haven’t avoided it either; the young love thing isn’t really a magnet for me (Angelo and Isabella are actually my favorite Shakespearean fun couple). I have noticed that most productions I read about are really staging the idea of West Side Story rather than what Shakespeare wrote: they make it about two historically and culturally opposing groups, like Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, or Jews and Palestinians on the West Bank, or something like that, whereas Shakespeare makes it completely clear that the feuding houses (“two households, both alike in dignity”) are pretty much identical. He very pointedly does not even specify an origin to the feud, something he could easily have done in two or three lines.

I’m very intrigued by the “On Motifs of Shakespeare” subtitle. In Joan Acocella’s excellent biography of Morris, she points out that the keystone of ballet, the male-female pas de deux, has not played a huge part in Morris’s work, and obviously R&J calls for that, so I can’t wait to see what he does with this material. I’m also very curious about the changed ending – a tragic finale would seem to be the point, and I’m not sure what sort of apotheosis the Soviet censors would object to. Just another reason to buy a ticket, I guess.

MMDG has set up a special new website about the production and the musicological issues; you can find it at http://www.lovelives.net/, which I like as a name because Love Lives can be either adjective/noun or noun/verb. Nicely done!

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