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Romeo and Juliet
Ballet in two tableaux, 1924/5

'Lambert: Romeo and Juliet & other works' (CDA67545)
Lambert: Romeo and Juliet & other works
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67545 
Tableau 1 Movement 1: Rondino. The dancers arrive, late for class
Tableau 1 Movement 2: Gavotte and Trio. Women's dance
Tableau 1 Movement 3: Scherzetto. Men's dance
Tableau 1 Movement 4: Siciliana. The professor teaches a pas de deux
Tableau 1 Movement 5: Sonatina. The lovers are separated
Tableau 2 Movement 1: Entr'acte. The stage is prepared
Tableau 2 Movement 2: Sinfonia. Romeo and Juliet meet at the ball
Tableau 2 Movement 3: Alla Marcia. The nurse and the servant
Tableau 2 Movement 4: Toccata. The duel between Romeo and Tybalt
Tableau 2 Movement 5: Musette. The balcony scene
Tableau 2 Movement 6: Burlesca. Paris enters, searching for Juliet
Tableau 2 Movement 7: Adagietto. The death of Juliet
Tableau 2 Movement 8: Finale. The curtain falls

Romeo and Juliet
Constant spent many hours with the pianist Angus Morrison playing duets of ballet scores by Debussy, Stravinsky and others, and Morrison suggested to him the scenario for a ‘suite dansée’, Adam and Eve, in three scenes with four characters: Adam, Eve, the Serpent and the Angel. This was at a time when Diaghilev was hoping to achieve a financial success in London with a ballet based on an English subject, by an English composer. Walton had been keen to write a ballet for Diaghilev, and in November 1925 a meeting was arranged at the Savoy Hotel for him to play to the impresario, a meeting to which he also invited Lambert, perhaps for moral support. Walton was no pianist and he singularly failed to impress Diaghilev, but when Lambert played his Adam and Eve to him, he showed immediate interest. He crossed through the title in pencil and substituted the more English Romeo and Juliet. As the score consists of fairly short movements in neoclassical style, such a transformation was not as impossible as it may seem.

In March 1926 Constant travelled to Monte Carlo for the rehearsals of Romeo and Juliet for which Diaghilev had specially engaged Tamara Karsavina as Juliet, with Serge Lifar as Romeo, and had brought back Bronislava Nijinska (sister of Nijinsky) to choreograph the ballet. But when in late April, after reciting at the second public performance of the Walton–Sitwell Façade, Constant returned to Monte Carlo, arriving within two or three days of the ballet’s premiere, he was incensed to find that not only had Diaghilev made changes to Nijinska’s choreography in her absence but that he had also rejected the set designs by the up-and-coming British artist Christopher Wood in favour of two surréaliste painters, Max Ernst and Joan Miró. At a heated meeting twenty-year-old Lambert threatened to withdraw his music, but Diaghilev had his way. The ballet was first performed at Monte Carlo on 4 May 1926, Marc-César Scotto conducting. The almost bare stage dismayed audience and critics, but that was nothing compared to the strong demonstration against Ernst and Miró when it was staged a fortnight later in Paris. It had an incident-free reception in London on 21 June 1926. While, notoriety apart, the ballet was hardly a success, it established Lambert’s name as the first of only two English composers to have ballet scores performed by Diaghilev (the other being Lord Berners), and before long he was invited to be conductor of the Camargo Society and the Vic-Wells (later Sadler’s Wells) Ballet.

Romeo and Juliet is a very free treatment of the Shakespeare story, being in effect a ballet within a ballet. It is divided into two tableaux. The first takes place in a ballet classroom with the corps de ballet. Rondino: the two principal dancers arrive, realize that they are late and quickly change clothes in readiness for the class. The Gavotte and Trio is a women’s dance, the Scherzetto a men’s dance. Siciliana: the professor teaches the principals a pas de deux during which, forgetting their proper steps, they make no secret of their love. Sonatina: the lovers are separated by their scandalized friends who carry them off to the theatre where a rehearsal is due to start.

The second tableau is a rehearsal of scenes from Romeo and Juliet. Entr’acte: Prelude and preparation of the stage. Sinfonia: the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet at the ball. Alla Marcia: the nurse and the servant. Toccata: the duel between Romeo and Tybalt. Musette: balcony scene. Burlesca: Paris enters, accompanied by musicians, and searches for Juliet, his fiancée. Adagietto: the death of Juliet. Finale: the curtain falls and the enthusiastic audience imitates and applauds the principal actors. The curtain rises, but Romeo and Juliet are not there to take their call. The spectators rush on to the stage and vainly search for the lovers, who elope by aeroplane with Romeo in a leather coat and an airman’s headgear.

from notes by Stephen Lloyd © 2005

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