Stalinist Russia wasn’t exactly known for its happy endings. No wonder Prokofiev’s original musical setting for a ballet of Romeo and Juliet—one that featured a surprisingly bright conclusion—never saw the light of day.
In 1935 the composer created a work that spared Shakespeare’s lovers their doomed fate: In the last scene Juliet awakens before Romeo takes his own life, and the two dance through the show’s final notes.
But such jubilation did not fly at the Kremlin. Stalin’s culture czars canceled the première in Moscow, demanding rewrites. Prokofiev acquiesced, and when his Romeo and Juliet eventually took the stage, the composer had difficulty recognizing it.
Despite its history, this censored ballet became the standard Romeo and Juliet. Until now. While doing research in Russia, Princeton musicologist Simon Morrison uncovered the original, and Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, subsequently commissioned choreographer Mark Morris to create the dances for it. On July 4 the work will have its world première at Bard, as part of the seasonal arts festival SummerScape.
Morris prefers the new to the old. “The music in the traditional incarnation is really big,” he says, “with orchestral suites that don’t really tell the story. This version is much more satisfying and puzzling.”
By uncanny coincidence, this isn’t the only recently unearthed, long-lost Prokofiev piece to première this season. At London’s Covent Garden the Royal Ballet is now performing (through May 14) a new suite of dances set to a Prokofiev score that had been missing for more than 70 years. Originally written for a film never made, it bears many similarities to his Romeo and Juliet. The stars cross yet again.
Ready To Watch: A Snob’s TV Guide
After a weekend-long In Treatment marathon, we went out and bought the entire subtitled DVD collection of Be ’Tipul, the Israeli series that HBO’s is based on. It’s just about a word-for-word translation, but forgive us if we prefer the dashing Gabriel Byrne doing the talking.
• We read everything written about the brilliant finale of The Wire—even though we still haven’t actually seen a single episode. That hasn’t stopped us from peppering conversations with the phrase “It is what it is.”
• ON DEMAND: The two sweetest words in the English language. They are, after all, the reason we got hooked on Dexter.
• We took peculiar delight in the war of words between Nancy Franklin and Janet Malcolm in The New Yorker…over Gossip Girl. We stand by Franklin, the only critic who could ever make sense of Tony Soprano’s dreams.
• We say we’re sick of talking about Mad Men, but this summer’s première of Season 2 will be marked on our calendar in red ink the moment it’s announced. Why such utterly obsessive devotion when we can’t commit to a dinner date? Jon Hamm.
• Following a heated debate over the superiority of Season 1 to Season 2 of 30 Rock, we are no longer speaking to our best friend. Or our mother.
• We think the voice-over gimmick on Desperate Housewives is a bad takeoff on Joseph Mankiewicz’s Letter to Three Wives. We came to this realization watching the 1949 film on PBS’s Saturday-night Reel 13 lineup—a classic, a short, then an indie, starting at nine.
• We await, with breath that is bated, the première next year of the late, great Anthony Minghella’s pilot of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, based on Alexander McCall Smith’s books chronicling the adventures of Botswanan female detective Precious Ramotswe.