Prokofiev feat. Shakespeare … return of the celeste

When I went: 14 January 2017

Music Owl Hoot rating: 4/5

Location: Royal Festival Hall, London

Performers: Chulpan Khamatova (Juliet and some sonnets), Dina Korzun (some sonnets), Ralph Fiennes (Romeo and some sonnets), Vanessa Redgrave (some sonnets), Teodor Currentzis (conductor), musicAeterna Orchestra

Creative team: William Shakespeare (extracts from the play Romeo and Juliet), Sergei Prokofiev (music)

Approximate price: £65

Special points: Synchronicity of the orchestra, acclaimed actors

Best bit: Balcony Scene

If I could change one thing: Fewer sound issues


The play / music:

This was a one-off concert put on in aid of the Gift of Life charity, which aims to help children with cancer in Russia. The concert displayed an unusual combination of extracts from Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet (several sonnets and the balcony scene between the lead characters) and Prokofiev’s ballet of the same name. Obviously, both works are very highly regarded and often performed, so it is always interesting to see them presented in a new way.

This performance:

The combination worked well; the two Russian actresses, Chulpan Khamatova (Juliet and some sonnets) and Dina Korzun read out the sonnets in Russian either before or after Ralph Fiennes or Vanessa Redgrave read out the same material in English. For the Balcony Scene, Ralph played Romeo and Chulpan Juliet in their respective native languages, with written translations displayed above the stage and their chemistry and the different tones in their acting worked beautifully. I had seen Ralph before in The Tempest and he always seems to perform Shakespeare with a lot of commitment and real appreciation for the material.

The orchestra, who stood to play (other than those with the larger string and percussion instruments), were extremely impressive, showing off a rare high level of synchronicity and energy, and their conductor, Teodor Currentzis, clearly lived through every note and directed with huge passion and skill.

Some minor negative points were that the concert was a bit late starting, and that there were a few sound issues: Vanessa Redgrave’s microphone was making distracting ticking noises every time she performed, and Chulpan Khamatova had to hold hers onto her face throughout the first half.

It was great to see another use of a celeste, as in The Planets and The Nutcracker; the celeste isn’t an instrument that gets a lot of attention apart from in a few high-profile pieces, but has a really lovely sound.

This was a really special concert that I felt lucky to attend; I would love to see this orchestra again and think the combination of play and music could be used to great effect elsewhere.


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