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Vienna State Opera Ballet: John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet

Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet fills a peculiar place between the historic pomp of Leonid Lavrovsky’s original and the very dancy minimalism of Grigorovich’s later classic. The brown and black costumes seem a little dusty and remind me of the seventies. But the seventies unbelievably enough are back in fashion so perhaps the retro brown look is already trendy again.

How does Staatsoper handle this middle of the road Romeo from 1962? With relative aplomb. The orchestra did seem a little undermanned or thin for Prokofiev’s magnificent score in comparison to performances I’ve heard in Moscow and St Petersburg.

On the dance front after two years of Harangozo’s whip hand, the corps de ballet handles their part without a false step. Standardising on the Russian norm has left a very svelte and elegant corps.

Rafaella Sant’Anna, Ketevan Papava and Liudmila Trayan are all fun as the Montague good time girls. Thomas Mayerhofer and Alexandra Kontrus were fine as the Capulet parents but not extraordinarily stately. Still when Alexandra Kontrus is carried away with her son Tybald one’s heart breaks for the bereaved mother.

That’s the pity of Romeo and Juliet, it always ends in tears, no mattter how playful Mercutio or how sweet Romeo. Juliet’s brother Tybald must kill Mercutio and then Romeo must murder his brother in law. That events go downhill from there is no surprise. Manslaughter and murder rarely ends well.

Denys Cherevchenko as Mercutio relishes his moments in the spotlight and has the legs to take advantage of free flowing part. On the other side, Kyrill Kourlaev as Tybalt is intent on protecting his sister and totally humourless. Kourlaev is anything but grim in real life, so he’s up to his usual fine acting. Mortally injured Kourlaev throws himself down on the stage and rolls across in his death throes. I saw at least three solid bruises in just a single evening and he had two performances in three days. Method to the end.  Dramatic ballet at its best.

Roman Lazik is less convincing as Romeo. Lazik is the typical leading dancer with long, long legs and an open face. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to be doing much with his natural gifts and relies on facile charm throughout the evening. He never seems especially ardent. One has difficulty imagining why Juliet would cross her entire family for the sake of such a diffident fellow.

Alexandra Tcacenco as Paris doesn’t come off any better on the other side. He doesn’t seem to be really taken with Juliet nor nearly jealous enough. The only one really looking out for Juliet is her brother.

Despite Lazik’s weak pitch for her heart, Irina Tsymbal does manage to capture the impetuousness passion of first love. She glides across the stage and melts our tired hearts with the sweet flutter of her arms and her toes.

I would be intrigued to see something more experimental done with the male roles here. Kourlaev doesn’t have the sweet looks of a typical leading man, but rather the menacing features of a Rothbart or Crassius. But there is no reason not to cast him against external type and see how he does. Based on how he’s handled everything offered to him to date, it would likely be very well.

If they could find a petite enough Juliet, even Cherevychko might be a fun Romeo. But first he’d have to promise to act and not try to dazzle us with circus jumps. In any case, Lazik is on the cusp of being a little bit too old to convincingly portray Romeo and Staatsoper Ballet will have to work on finding alternative leading men.

Overall the Wiener Staatsoper Romeo and Julie is well worth a glance if you’d like to see a good if not scintillating version of Cranko’s classic. If you hit the right cast, the evening may well be splendid.


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