Sergey Prokofiev is best known for two of his ballets, which are still a staple in many repertoires of the companies from around the world. And these are: Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella.
Some ballets became stories that inspired other books and movies (how many retellings are for Swan lake?) but sometimes an already established story needed a ballet form. We have seen it happen with Esmeralda and the Hunchback from Notre Dame.
Sergey Prokofiev realized that sometimes a dear story is a perfect recipe for ballet and this is why he looked at some of the most beloved stories that haven’t been reinterpreted for the ballet scene.
Sergey Prokofiev – the life of a genius
After Tchaikovsky, the composers (especially the Russian ones) had to fill in big shoes. He represented the pomp and the grandeur of this art. You could try to mimic his style but that meant that you would soon be forgetful. You could try to be too original and risk the audience not being ready for it.
Instead, Prokofiev tried to mend together the most important lessons of the past with the new style of the 20th century.
He is not only an important ballet composer. He tried his hand at creating different music: symphonies, instrumental music, movies, and opera.
Sergey Prokofiev never tried to use an idea more than once, always trying to bring something original to his creations. For the ballets, he tried to give life to the characters and his music accomplished his task. For a complex story like Romeo and Juliet, he used a rich imaginary with his music. Also, he wanted his stories to be lively, especially Cinderella. And not just life, but the dances not to happen stiffly or like in a modern musical movie where the characters just burst out dancing.
He collaborated with Diaghilev who called him his second spiritual son (the first distinction is reserved for Stravinsky).
Romeo and Juliet
Who doesn’t know the immortal story of love between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet? The most famous story of William Shakespeare could have proven too difficult for any other composer to find a musical form.
But when Prokofiev was asked to compose music for a tragic love story and started to hear the possibilities (including Tristan and Isolde) he settled for the English story.
The tragedy of the Shakespearean story was also a tragedy for the Russian public (at first). In part, because originally the ending was different from the established one. Meaning that the sad ending was replaced with a happy one.
When the public heard this a commotion was caused and the show was postponed in Russia. This is why the Czechoslovakian stage presented the ballet first.
For this ballet, he chose to limit the story to only one act which shortened the duration of it (Romeo and Juliet is really beautiful but extremely long we might observe).
The story follows the fairy tale closely with some exceptions:
While preparing for the ball, the step-sisters repeat their dance with the dance teacher. After they leave not animals are part of the magic make-over but other fairies working for the godmother fairy.
Chout, Prokofiev’s ballet for Diaghilev
Diaghilev was very pleased with Prokofiev’s way of combining musical notes and asked him to compose one for him.
His first attempts were not the best for the Russian patron of arts. Diaghilev decided to help him by proposing looking at a fairy tale by Alexander Afanasyev.
He chose a story about seven buffoons who are advised by an eighth to kill their wives and bring them back with music. They blindly follow him but the desired result did not appear. They decide to seek vengeance.
The eighth buffoon dresses as a girl and a merchant falls in love with him. He tricks him too and because of his actions, a goat is killed.
In the end, the seven buffoons are arrested and to escape the same fate the merchant pays the policeman (actually the eighth buffoon).