romeo & juliet

Ageing in Reverse – The Globe at The Bowl

Bill Barclay, our Director of Music, on adapting the music for Shakespeare at the Bowl.

This program has been designed especially for tonight’s collaboration between the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl, and Shakespeare’s Globe in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Charting a new narrative course through some of Shakespeare’s most famous stories, we see three pairs of lovers ageing in reverse: the mature and mythic strife of Antony and Cleopatra yields to the midcareer bickering of Beatrice and Benedick, finally concluding in the cleansing purity of Romeo and Juliet’s instantly combustible love. Taken at the end of the story for once, this most famous iteration of the trope ‘love at first sight’ is experienced through the lens of the inevitable complexities to follow. Such a prophetic impulse is of course at the very heart of Romeo & Juliet, though a distinct air of inevitability hides in plain sight within Antony & Cleopatra and Much Ado About Nothing as well.

At the musical heart of our presentation is the unfairly neglected Antoine et Cléopâtre, two concert suites composed by Florent Schmitt, who easily wins the award for the best French composer you’ve never heard of. This wild, exotic, dense, and sumptuous music was written for an extravagant six hour production of the play with full orchestra at the Paris Opera directed by Andre Gide in June of 1920. By the autumn of that year Schmitt had distilled his epic theatre score into the six movements that make up these two concert suites (op.69a and 69b), leaving posterity the task of remarrying his work to Shakespeare again. After a great deal of searching, Schmitt’s original compositions - which might have guided us in our restoration of text and music – are nowhere to be found. It is a pity; the concert suites do not beg or require Shakespeare’s language or the actors to give it life, and Schmitt has left us very few clues as to where in the play the music was originally designed to go.

Schmitt clearly had a knack for melodrama and much of this music would have accompanied text as well as movement, combat and visual effects. He supplies orgiastic dances, tempestuous sea battles and other dynamically theatrical sections but also supple and restrained mood pieces that seem to yearn for the poetry that inspired them. Perhaps the lack of text, story or spectacle in the concert suites explains their scant performance history. In October these actors will present a slightly longer presentation of the Schmitt with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at Barbican Hall under the baton of Sakari Oramo; it is our collective hope that between these two concert adaptations we can help move this enchanting score into a more central position in the concert repertoire.

Also composed in 1918-20 is Erich Korngold’s charismatic score for Much Ado About Nothing. One of classical music’s greatest prodigies, Korngold was only 20 when the Vienna Burgtheater invited him to compose incidental music for their production of the play. It was remounted and rescored for the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna in 1920 at the same time as Schmitt’s Antoine et Cléopâtre. Breezily melodic with swaths of hand-on-heart pathos and twists of wistful charm, Korngold supports all of Shakespeare’s colours in this ‘it takes a village’ approach to getting a pair of recalcitrants to fall in love. Our sprint through this story leaves much of the score’s gems on the cutting room floor, a gesture Korngold would later accept as part of the deal during his Hollywood film score years in the 30’s and 40’s.

Korngold’s contribution to the art of film scoring is immeasurable and largely unsung; his musical style became the genre’s first gold standard and was heavily imitated for decades. Though this score for Much Ado predates his Hollywood years, one can hear in it the style that would come to define American films from the mid 1930’s through the early 60’s: soaring original melodies, buoyantly colourful orchestrations, leitmotifs for characters and scenes (a style borrowed from opera), and shimmering textures for strings that invited both the heart and the imagination to engage in the story. Korngold was the first composer to receive the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1938, for Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (previously the award had gone to a studio’s entire music department). He composed 18 film scores in all, including several Flynn hits (Captain Blood was the composer’s first foray in 1935). When he returned to writing classical music in his final decade before his death in 1957 he was both disillusioned with the cinema and vaguely shunned by the world of concert music; his compositional style was deemed out of date with serialism, in vogue at the time, and he found himself battling a reputation of having sold out to Hollywood. Some things never change, and the film industry owes him a great debt.

The last chapter of the evening belongs to Romeo & Juliet: first with Mercutio’s exotically imaginative Queen Mab speech, then the Balcony Scene and finally Tchaikovsky’s whole take on a play that amazingly he never actually read. Unlike our treatments of A&C and Much Ado, I have chosen a mash-up format that features a triptych of musical voices: Tchaikovsky, Hector Berlioz, and Nino Rota’s famously plangent score to Zeffirelli’s 1968 film. We begin by hearing Mercutio’s Mab speech in its uncut state so that its imagery is fresh in our minds for Berlioz’s Queen Mab Scherzo, which is taken from Roméo et Juliette, a symphonie dramatique composed in 1838 not for the opera but for the concert hall (and first inspired by David Garrick’s 1827 staged production at the Odéon Theatre in Paris). Returning to Shakespeare’s words, I have somewhat rearranged Rota’s famous music for tonight’s bespoke version of the Balcony Scene, using it as a bridge into Tchaikovsky’s rhapsodic Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture, first performed in 1870.

Though this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we are a mere four years from another major anniversary, the hundredth of the Hollywood Bowl. The first concert on this site occurred in 1920, the very year Schmitt and Korngold were enjoying performances of their works and a mere decade before the dawn of the modern film music industry. Tonight we aim to bring you the infectiously eventful environment of the Globe, its porous relationship to the audience and its full embrace of live music; we also pay homage to a clutch of great composers and Shakespeare lovers both famous and unsung; finally we revel in the lavish Art Deco era and style that gave this fabled venue its birth and these 20th century composers their ‘form and pressure.’ We hope you enjoy the performance.

Performances will take place at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday 30 August at 8.00pm and Thursday 1 September at 8.00pm. Discover more.

Tickets can be purchased directly from the Hollywood Bowl. Buy tickets.

Image  © Hannah Yates