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Restoring Prokofiev's music, including ballet scores for

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A friend has called my attention to an article in the Princeton Alumni Review entitled Unmasking Prokofiev: a Princeton scholar goes to great lengths to uncover the true works and personal story of the Russian composer. I thought this would be of interest to those of us who care about the composer, his career and work, and especially his connection to ballet.

The Princeton professor is Simon Morrison, who has restored scores to Prokofiev's Pas d'Acier (composed for Diaghilev's company in the mid-1920s and last staged in 1931); the original version of Romeo and Juliet commissioned by Vladimir Mutnykh, diredtdor of the Bolshoi, in the late 30s; as well as the world premiere of Pushkin's play Boris Godunov, with incidental music by the composer.

Here are a few relevant highlights:

The first of Morrison’s Prokofiev projects, Le Pas D’Acier, was not such a big departure for the young professor. “The score was untampered with but the ballet had been lost,†says Morrison. In the mid-1920s, when he composed it, Prokofiev was living in Paris and feeling a bit sorry for himself. His thoughts kept turning to his homeland, where so much was happening in the arts. When Serge Diaghilev, the impresario of Les Ballets Russes, approached him about writing a ballet on a Soviet theme, Prokofiev leaped at the offer. He teamed up with the Constructivist artist Georgii Yakulov, who was back in Russia, and the two came up with a 40-minute ballet in two acts, which they envisioned as a celebration of Soviet industrialization following the Revolution. When it debuted in Paris in 1927 the ballet was viewed as pro-communist; in Moscow two years later it was understood to be the opposite: a communist satire. The last time it was staged before the Princeton production was in 1931, and that revival featured a different story line.

Diaghilev once described Le Pas D’Acier as his “Bolshevik ballet,†but Morrison believes Prokofiev was aiming for something lighter and less political. “The intention was to create a work that was a playful representation of the revolutionary change rather than something that was subversive and political,†he says. “It was about the body, the idea that the body was a machine. The result was a beautiful ballet. All the reviewers said the second half was incredible.â€

This is not your little sister’s pretty ballet, but a vigorous dance that nods to silent movie acting and even gymnastics. In his production, Morrison enlisted Lesley-Ann Sayers, an English theater historian who already had spent eight years re-creating Yakulov’s visually arresting set, with its cogs and levers and hypnotic spinning wheels. Prokofiev’s music is insistent and troubled, even though there seems to be strong optimism at the end, when the factory collapses but the collective doesn’t.

And -- about Romeo and Juliet ...

[ ... ]Morrison’s highest-profile project yet [is] his restoration of Romeo and Juliet, the ballet Prokofiev was hired to compose by Vladimir Mutnykh, the director of the Bolshoi Ballet. It long has been one of the world’s best-loved ballets, and yet, says Morrison, “The version that’s known and loved around the world is completely incorrect. There’s an act missing. There are dances orchestrated by people against Prokofiev’s wishes, and other stuff he was forced to put in there against his will,†including solo dances for the hero and heroine. The orchestration was thickened. Fixing the ballet, Morrison says, “is a massive exercise.â€

The biggest change Prokofiev and his collaborator Sergei Radlov made to Shakespeare’s familiar story was to add a happy ending: Their Juliet wakes up from her potion-induced slumber just as Romeo is reaching the awful conclusion that she is dead. But when Prokofiev presented his score to the Soviet cultural authorities, who had been growing ever more conservative, they balked at the ending. The Shakespeare purists among them did not like the idea of changing the familiar ending. Prokofiev had a logical answer to their objections, saying, “Living people can dance, the dying cannot.†Grasping at ways to preserve the integrity of his vision, he even suggested hanging a red flag outside the theater on nights when the sad ending was to be performed, a green flag when the happy one was planned.

Morrison found himself courted by some of the world’s top ballet companies, including the New York City Ballet, which wanted to produce the newly restored Romeo and Juliet. He settled on the Mark Morris Dance Group, which he has long admired, but he has no illusions of avoiding controversy. “This is a very high-stakes project,†says Morrison. “It’s the Holy Grail of the dance repertoire. So I know I’m in for it. That’s why, even this summer in Moscow, I had to make sure that I had the evidence to prove what I said happens, in documents, color facsimiles, Stalin signing off on [the familiar] version. I had to do all that because I know what’s coming.â€

The link to this issue (as long as it lasts) is here: http://www.princeton.edu/paw

Morris is now finishing up a book to be entitled Prokofiev: The Soviet Years,

which relies on documents long hidden away in various Russian archives to present a more accurate and ultimately more symptheic view of the composer than those in earlier biographies, which were based on the sanitized official record.

The author of the article is Merrell Noden.

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After reading this article I wondered if creators of The Bolt had been influenced by Le Pas d'acier....

This is what Scott Morrison wrote in his chapter Shostakovich as Industrial Saboteur: Observations on The Bolt.

From Laurel Fay's book Shostakovich and his World page 121.

Le Pas d'acier
was not staged in the Soviet Union.... Since he [Georgii Iakulov] was regarded as a leading force in the Constructivist movement, it stands to reason that Bruni knew of his work on
Le Pas d'acier
--although, admittedly, I have not found concrete evidence to this effect. Bruni's decor for
The Bolt
, featuring a factory workshop, a village chapel, and a factory lounge, is a playful, funhouse-mirror reflection of Iakulov's decor for
Le Pas d'acier
, which off-sets images of down-at-the-heels peasants in the countryside with images of multitasking in the factory.

Article about the 2005 production of Le Pas d'acier--with images

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in case any NY-area BT readers care to hear Morrison he's part of the RUSSIAN BALLET SYMPOSIUM at barnard/columbia on 12 & 13 oct.

dale posted, i believe, the full sched. but here's where Morrison fits in: late in the day on the 13th.



Chair: Rebecca Stanton (Barnard College)

Simon Morrison (Princeton University), "Romeo and Juliet's Happy Ending"

Christina Ezrahi (University College, London), "The Thaw in Soviet Culture and the Return of Symphonic Dance"

Catharine Nepomnyashchy (Barnard College/Harriman Institute), "Ideologies of the Soviet Ballerina"

Discussant: Boris Gasparov (Columbia University)

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Thanks, innopac, for that interesting and important Link.

The article discusses the dance reconstruction work of Milicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer (who reconstructed Nijinsky's Sacre du Printemps for the Joffrey in 1987. I was especially interested in the following:

The Princeton production nearly eliminated Diaghilev and Massine from the ballet, instead it developed the original plans of Iakulov and Prokofiev. In the process the ballet became more humanistic and dramatic. At the end, after the workers begin their gymnastic display, the factory comes back to life. The production's synopsis states: "The strength and power of the human body is celebrated alongside the machinery of the factory".

Thanks, rg, for the information on the seminar. The idea of R&J with a happy ending should interest many. I wonder how Mark Morris will handle it.

Incidentally, was I the only one surprised to learn that the New York City Ballet was one of those companies which expressed interest in the Morrison version before he decided on going with Morris? I assume this was before Martins' own version, with its conventional tragic ending. Was this something NYCB ballet fans were aware of while it was going on?

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The idea of R&J with a happy ending should interest many.

...can't wait to see it .!!!...For me a happy ending for R&J would have the same impact as when i saw for the first time the tragic/suicidal one for SL, in that case me being used to the happy one....BTW, is interesting that the same regimen that banned the suicidal act in the latter would otherwise vote against the happy one in Shakespeare's tragedy..

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I wonder what the librettist used as a text to justify the happy ending? Perhaps Charles Dickens' "Vincent Crummles'" edition of the play, where Juliet lives, Romeo lives, Paris lives, Tybalt lives, Mercutio lives, Old Montague and Old Capulet make up and all is just ducky ever after? And all to the most purple prose imaginable!

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I think I've posted thiis story before, but my favorite comment on tragic endings was made by Melina Mercouri, the prostitute with a heart of gold in Never On Sunday. Returning, exhilarated, from an outdoor performance of Medea, she assures Jules Dassin that Medea, Jason and the children actually survived quite happily. After all, she saw them taking curtain calls when the play was finished. So, what actually happened to the Medea family? "They all went to the seashore!"

To find out why Prokofiev wanted a happy ending, and why the Soviet authorities did not, we may have to await all the publicity that will doubtless surround the Morris production.

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More on happy endings: I've just come across the following, which does not refer to ballet but does give a precedent for happy endings in R & J.

In 1776 ... Georg Benda's Shakespeare opera Romeo und Julie had its first performance, in Gotha. It was performed in London this month by Bampton Opera, in St. John's, Smith Square. Benda is remembered because his melodrama Medea --spoken words to orchestral accompiment -- moved Mozart to admiration.n His oepra Romeo has a happy ending. Capulete agrees to accept Romeo as a son-in-law if Friar Laurence can restore his daughter to life.

The part of Friar Laurence is for a second tenor, and he has "just a few sung lines." I don't know whether he spoke or mimed the reawakening scene. Either way, it must have worked!

Source: Andrew Porter, review in Times Literary Supplement (9/28/07)

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simon morrison's presentation at the international russian ballet symposium went into some detail about the facts surrounding prokofiev's original plans and the subsequent (imposed) changes re: R&J.

i'm assuming he will present the text to the compilers of the proceedings where it will be available.

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Thanks, mmf, and welcome to BalletTalk.

The political intrigues -- and reversals of favor -- outlined in the article are powerful reminders of the restrictive Soviet orthodoxy. And despite the modifications demanded of Prokofiev, it became and endures as such a favorite!

I loved this:

Playing on Shakespeare’s verse, Ulanova quipped, “For never was a story of more woe/Than Prokofiev’s music for ‘Romeo.’ ”
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Thank you so much, mmf, for the Link to the Times, and for reviving this thread with new information. (The photo of the wonderful Leon Botstein at the podium is priceless.)

I was surprised to read of Prokofiev's own reasoning for the happy ending: "living people can dance, the dying cannot," apparently related to his Christian Science belief that sickness and death are illusions, not realities." It as also interesting to learn that Stalin himself signed off on the permission for the Bolshoi to produce Lavrovsky's production of the ballet (in the cut and altered version).

It was disillusioning to learn that Ulanova (and Konstantin Sergeyev) refused to dance the roles, claiming that the score was undanceable. (Syncopation, among other musical developments, had apparently not reached them up to then.) On the other hand, even some of daya's musicians were thrown off at first by some of the dissonances, etc.

In a sense the original is like the musical version of a director’s cut. Much of the score will be familiar, but it is orchestrated and arranged differently, with the lost sections added in. Gregory Spears, a composer, took on the tedious job of working out the orchestration from Prokofiev’s notes and other work.

For this newly discovered original Mark Morris, a master of modern dance, is creating new choreography for the premiere in July at SummerScape 2008, a festival at Bard College, of which Mr. Botstein is president, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. A world tour will follow, ending at Lincoln Center in 2009.

This has the potential to be the cultural event of the next season. Any more thoughts, now that we have this new information?

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Well, it's wonderful to have the complete Prokofiev score, but happy endings?! God help us. We want happy Swan Lakes, cinema verite Giselles without silly supernatural stuff, Nutrackers minus those inconvenient children - what next? Hamlet becomes king of Denmark? Giselle goes to a psychiatist and gets over men? Lear and Cordelia survive a la Victorian melodrama? James comes home and marries Effie? OK, I'm ranting. I'm going to go into a corner and mutter furiously until Homeland Sercurity takes me away as an obvious menace to the lobotomized society where there are no consequences to anything and we will all dine on treacle and jam forever. Grrrrrrr!!

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The new score does make it possible at last for the Disney Organization to make a full-length Romeo and Juliet cartoon. With the voices of Brad and Angelina? That's a plus ... (er) isn't it? :)

On a more serious note, I would think that Morris will have a hard sell when it comes to persuading audiences to accept this new version. He's a genius in my book, so I'm dying to see how he goes about it. But is it possible to create a satisfying happy ending to one of the world's most famous tragedies -- without resorting to irony?

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For those in New York City – I just got a brochure from Bard and it turns out they are offering round trip bus transportation from Columbus Circle for the Sat 7/5 matinee. The bus costs $10 and tickets are $75, $55 and $25. I think I may go…I'm not a big Mark Morris fan but I'm really curious about the score!

There aren't that many tickets left so anyone who's considering it should probably make up their minds pretty quickly. Here's the link:



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