ABT’s Breathtaking Romeo and Juliet

by Sedgwick Clark

I’ve been writing a lot about Stravinsky this season, but Prokofiev has stolen the limelight of late. The New York Philharmonic programmed his two violin concertos in successive weeks—with Lisa Batiashvili digging into the First last week and the Second beginning tonight with Leonidas Kavakos. The American Ballet Theatre is performing Kenneth MacMillan’s lyrical choreography of Romeo and Juliet all this week at the Metropolitan Opera House. With only a handful of concerts (and perhaps ballets) left to go, ABT’s R&J may prove to be the finest evening I have had in a theater or concert hall this season. Don’t miss it!

It’s been some time since I’ve seen the ballet performed. One of the first I saw was also at the Met, by the Royal Danish Ballet in the mid-Seventies. Not even guest artist Peter Martins’s Romeo could stop me from fleeing after the second act due to the abominable playing of the local pickup orchestra. That certainly wasn’t the case at ABT on Tuesday evening, with David LaMarche leading an all-but-flawless rendering of Prokofiev’s great score, as fine as any I have heard live or on recording. The impassioned Polina Semionova made Juliet’s transition from girl to young woman heart-throbbingly real, and David Hallberg as her ardent Romeo was no less believable. The large ABT cast was committed and effective throughout.

And while I’m thinking of ballet orchestras, I went to New York City Ballet last weekend to see works choreographed to music by Shostakovich (Concerto DSCH turned out to be his Piano Concerto No. 2, which was a treat), Cage (Sonatas and Interludes), and Glass (In Creases), but was blown away by the final work, Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, which kept a smile on my face from first note to last. (Maybe I should say from ascent to descent of the curtain!) Many of our finest ensembles come a cropper in dovetailing the string and woodwind rhythms of the Suite’s Scherzo. But as this orchestra aficionado has happily noted before, the inspired repertoire of NYCB is not only visual but aural, with its crack musicians always to be counted upon.   

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts (8:00 p.m. unless otherwise noted):

6/13 at 7:30. Avery Fisher Hall. New York Philharmonic/Lionel Bringuier; Leonidas Kavakos, violin. Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2. Kodály: Dances of Galánta. Stravinsky: Firebird Suite (1919).

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