The production first hit the stage in Stuttgart in 1962. The score by Serge Prokofiev is tremendously moving and powerful, as is the choreography. The curtain rises on a market scene that quickly turns into a sword fight between the Capulets and Montagues. After the “Duke” forces the two houses to reluctantly make peace, “Juliet” enters with her “Nurse” in a scene where her mother, “Lady Capulet”, presents her with a new dress to wear to the Capulet Ball. The women and men of the Corps De Ballet enter the Capulet Ball while we are introduced to “Paris” and “Tybalt”. A masked three-some has also entered the party and reveal themselves only to the audience as “Romeo”, “Mercutio”, and “Benvolio” (three Montague friends). Juliet enters the ball to be introduced to her soon to be husband, Paris, and a Pas De Deux ensues, ending with Juliet spotting Romeo. Tybalt is enraged and later challenges Romeo to a duel by slapping him in the face with his glove. Lord Capulet breaks up the fight and the ball continues. Romeo tells the Nurse to have Juliet meet him after the ball for their first Pas De Deux (the balcony scene).
Act two opens with an energetic Tarentella with Gypsies, a Clown dance, and a general air of celebration. The Nurse enters the scene to bring a note to Romeo. Juliet has asked him to meet her and the “Priest”, which delights Romeo. He twirls around with the Nurse and runs off stage with her to meet Juliet. The scene changes for Romeo and Juliet’s marriage but quickly returns back to a second Tarentella. The fun and games are soon broken up by Tybalt’s arrival. He came looking for Romeo to challenge to a final duel. When Romeo declines, Mercutio picks up his sword and aims it at Tybalt. An entertaining fight ensues, but when Romeo attempts to break them up, Tybalt stabs Mercutio. As is his style, Mercutio continues to joke, up until the moment of his death. Romeo in turn fights Tybalt to revenge his friend’s death. Romeo is victorious and Tybalt dies. The Act ends with Lady Capulet mourning over Tybalt’s body, the body of her assumed lover.
Act three opens on Juliet’s bedroom as the lovers are waking. Juliet’s hair is down and the two engage in a gorgeous Pas De Deux. Just after Romeo leaves, Lord and Lady Capulet enter with Paris. Juliet’s parents are livid when Juliet refuses the arranged marriage to Paris. They exit her room leaving her sobbing on the floor. Juliet runs across the stage and into the next scene to meet the Priest to ask him for advice. He gives her a vial suggesting with pantomime that once she drinks it, she will die. In the next scene Juliet considers her options, pacing her room. Her parents enter again and Juliet concedes to marrying Paris. After they exit to arrange to wedding, she continues her contemplation. After thinking of Romeo, she takes the potion and has a dramatic “dying” scene. Juliet’s bridesmaids (the “Lilies”) enter and dance with excitement for Juliet’s wedding day. The Nurse goes to wake Juliet, only to find her body to be limp.
With the dramatic theme music playing, the lilies, ball couples, Lord and Lady Capulet, Paris, and the Nurse march across the bridge for Juliet’s funeral. The men lower her body down into the Cyrpt where Paris is kneeling by her body when Romeo comes to mourn her death. They both have knives and try to stab each other, but Romeo overpowers Paris. He returns to Juliet’s body and stabs himself dying with her in his arms. Immediately after (as, of course, fate would have it) Juliet awakens to find a bloody scene before her. After panicking, she finds Paris’ knife and takes her own life, entangling herself in Romeo’s body before passing away.
Looking around the room during rehearsals, many of us had tears in our eyes each and every time we watched the dramatic and powerful Crypt scene as Romeo and Juliet take their lives in devotion to one another. We all know how the story ends, but it still feels tragic and emotional every time.