Extract from the Prologue of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife
Practically everyone is familiar with William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, the timeless story of a pair of doomed teenaged lovers that ends in their tragic deaths. The play has inspired countless adaptations in film and TV while also frequently appearing in both classical and popular music (Taylor Swift’s Love Story or Peggy Lee’s Fever, anyone?). Ahead of WNO Orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture in our upcoming Love and Loss concert, let’s look at some of the other musical works the play has inspired for the concert hall, ballet, and the opera.
Prokofiev’s Ballet, Romeo and Juliet
Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s score for Romeo and Juliet was composed as a ballet, and was first performed in 1938 in Brno, Czech Republic. Prokofiev’s changing of the story’s tragic ending to a happy one where both Romeo and Juliet survive outraged the Soviet authorities. He was later forced to reinstate Shakespeare’s original intended ending - the new version was performed in Leningrad (St Petersburg) in 1940 where it finally gained critical approval and won a Stalin Prize. Its famous Dance of the Knights is well-known as the theme tune to the BBC’s The Apprentice.
Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette
In 1839, French composer Hector Berlioz wrote one of his largest compositions for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, a symphonie dramatique based on the story of Romeo and Juliet. Among the audience at the work’s first performance at the Paris Conservatoire was Richard Wagner, who would later note the significant influence the piece would have on his opera Tristan und Isolde, dedicating the work to Berlioz.
Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi & Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
There are countless operas written on the subject of Romeo and Juliet, but the most famous and frequently performed include Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830) and Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette (1867). While Bellini’s Italian opera is a reworking of the play, where the two Capulet and Montague families are turned into rival political factions, Gounod’s French opera follows the play’s plot more strictly.
Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
First performed in 1870 in Moscow, Tchaikovsky’s orchestral overture based on the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers is a classic piece in the concert repertoire. Passionate and dramatic in equal measure, the piece’s love theme is a particular favourite in countless films and TV programmes. A recent example is an episode of the BBC series Ghosts, where Tchaikovsky’s love theme forms the accompaniment to a romantic tryst shared between Fanny and Humphrey’s headless body in the gardens of Button House.
Don’t miss your opportunity to experience the thrill of WNO Orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, along with Strauss’s magnificent Four Last Songs and Brahms’s mighty Symphony No 1. Love and Loss will take place at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Wales Millennium Centre, on Sunday 29 October 2023 at 3pm.