Dear readers, one of my dear friends always used to say “The universe will provide,” though I was often skeptical of her assertion. Well, just as I was going to write this column, trying to maintain the relevance and universality of classic works, specifically Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the universe indeed complied.
None other than England’s Royal Shakespeare Company has retooled “Romeo and Juliet” for the Twitter Age. “Such Tweet Sorrow” is a live theatrical experiment taking place on Twitter that will involve real-time reactions to developments in the plot. The director of the project was quoted: “Mobile phones don’t have to be the antichrist of the theater.” Whether or not this is a “good” thing, it does attest to the inexhaustibility of the source.
One of Shakespeare’s most beloved, most often produced and adapted plays, the story of “Romeo and Juliet” was already “old” by the time he got to it. Early Renaissance Italian tales were all the rage in England by Shakespeare’s day, so “all” he had to do was cloak the eternal verities of doomed teenage impetuous love and family feuding in the gorgeous poetry of Elizabethan England.
At least 24 operas are based on “R&J,” including the well-known ones by Gounod and Bellini. But just look at the also-ran composers: Benda, Dalayrac, Zingarelli, Zandonai, Vaccai, Martinetti, Sutermeister, Blacher. Have you ever heard a note of music of any of these guys? Amazing. Berlioz also created a “symphonie dramatique” on the subject, and there is Tchaikovsky’s evergreen orchestral “Fantasy-Overture” on Romeo and Juliet too.
Hey, don’t forget Delius’ “A Village Romeo and Juliet,” and Stenhammar’s 1922 “Romeo ock Julia”! “West Side Story” ring a bell? What about Prokofiev’s ballet? Peggy Lee’s “Fever”?
The movies have been generous as well, from the silent era to the present day. In 1936, the decidedly too-old duo of Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard played the “star-cross’d lovers.” Franco Zeffirelli brought age-appropriateness to his casting in the much-loved 1968 version. In 1996, Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes got their shot, in an update set in New York’s East Village. “My So Called Romeo” I guess. There are versions in every language spoken on Earth.
Even the ABC television soap opera “One Life to Live” has a current plot involving a student-written high school musical called “Starr-Xed Lovers.” [sic]
All this means is that the best stories are told and retold. So investigate Shakespeare’s original, which abounds not just in tragedy, but a great deal of humor, some of it bawdy, and word play. Then find a “version” or two, and begin forming your own reactions.
“Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs . . .”
© 2010 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs