Timeless masterpieces transcend their own genre and become a source of inspiration for artists across all mediums. Istanbul is currently witness to one of the finest and the most popular examples of this phenomenon: Shakespeare’s timeless Romeo and Juliet.
Written in the 16th century, the play has become more than a work of literature: It has inspired innumerable artists in their own form of expression and has been transposed into countless mediums. This week at the Zorlu Center PSM it takes the form of a rockin’, kickin’ and amazingly artistic musical drama titled Romeo & Giulietta: Ama e Cambia Il Mondo (Love and Change the World). The musical, which is showing in Turkey thanks to the Istanbul Entertainment Group, has been brought to life by the creative genius of producer David Zard, the musical creativity of Gerard Presgurvic, and the talent and dedication of forty-five theater artists. We were not provided any info on the people behind the stage design, the costumes, and lightning and video imagery, but these too were all very worthy of recognition.
I follow the music and arts scene in Istanbul very closely, and I had been looking forward to this performance for months. I was not disappointed. The musical interpretation did not attempt to alter the original Romeo and Juliet; it remained true to the original plot and details. However, it also added the power, energy, and stamina of music to it.
The opening scene signaled the energy and stamina of the play, as well as the level of artistry presented. Amazing costumes, an upbeat rhythm, and a tune that, in my opinion, is set to become the trademark of the musical just as “Belle” has become that of “Notre Dame de Paris.”
The Opening Scene:
Each following scene depicted a key moment from the play, but the plot and dialogues were not presented in verse, but instead song. The songs did not take verses directly from Shakespeare’s text, but paraphrased or simply touched upon the underlying theme in a scene.
“L’Odio” (in English, “I Hate Him/Her” — this song is sung by Mother Capulet and Mother Montague, clearly not the most affectionate of mother-in-laws):
Pivotal and what you might call ‘trademark’ stanzas were at times recited in brief takes of dialogue, such as the prologue, the stanzas sealing the first kiss of Romeo and Juliet, and those distinguishing the nightingale from the lark as Romeo and Juliet have to come to terms with the arrival of morning and their approaching goodbye.
Romeo and Giulietta accepting a pilgrim’s prayers and engaging in some sweet exchanging of sin, in verse:
Scenes of color vibrancy followed. In the meantime, stage design treated us to scenes, props, and technology that befit the legacy of Italy as a leader in art, design, and architecture. It rightly fused modern beats with classical beauty and refinement in design. Technology also played a role: 3-D scenes were reflected on stage and coupled with props to provide the audience with an in depth feel of Verona or whatever the setting happened to be.
Each scene was exciting, intriguing, and artistically impressive. The music was a vibrant, yet intricate, fusion of rock, pop, opera, and classical. At times, there were arpeggios screeching from electric guitars. Other times there were operatic themes, with a full orchestral background. Often there was both. It was impeccable.
There was one thing that I think could have been — and should be — ameliorated: the volume of the sound. It was loud. Often too loud. I was informed that this was done specifically, as the Romeo & Giulietta crew liked their show to be “bangin’.” They wanted the audience to really “feel” the play. But, in my opinion, this was overdone. In many scenes, volume became not a medium of “feeling,” but an obstacle to auditory perception and appreciation of the intricacies of the music. The stage design, the acting, the music… everything was already there and more than enough to make us “feel” the performance. There was no need for blasting volumes to block away the details and the intricacy.
I luckily have a secret method for such times of crisis: I use my index fingers to press my ears closed. This filters out the “clutter” and the clash of resonances while paving the way for the real music to filter in. I made use of this method throughout a good half of the performance and it worked wonders. It brought out the musical composition, the choir singing in the background, the vocal clarity of the solos, the violins playing intricate tunes in the background and the real sound — not just the screech — of the electric guitar.
But all that considered, I was too impressed overall to let this one aspect overshadow the rest of the performance. Even with the sound issues, Romeo & Giulietta is too good to dismiss. I’m grateful to have had the chance to experience this newest interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.
“Ama e Cambia Il Mondo” (“Love and Change the World”). The love Romeo and Juliet had for each other resulted in tragic consequences: It shattered everything in the dynamic of their lives and ended terribly. But, the story of their love has indeed changed the world. It has become a given in our lives. Could you imagine a world without the story of Romeo and Juliet? And without all the creative and artistic expression it has triggered throughout the centuries? From theatrical plays, to movies, to rap songs, to masterpieces of opera and ballet, it has been the source of aspiration amid countless invaluable creations of expression. Romeo & Giulietta: Ama e Cambia il Mondo featured the finest of these expressions.
Featured Image Source: Zorlu Center PSM