Do you recognize this balcony? Our upcoming Legendary Love Stories concert features Tchaikovsky's “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture,” inspired by the play we all had to read in high school (although some of us may have read the Cliffs Notes!).
But did you know that Romeo and Juliet still ranks high on lists of Shakespeare’s most popular and most frequently produced plays, and is possibly the most filmed play of all time?
According to The Oxford Shakespeare edition of Romeo and Juliet, of all of Shakespeare's works, Romeo and Juliet has generated the most – and the most varied – adaptations, including prose and verse fiction, dramas, operas, orchestral and choral music, ballets, films, TV shows, and paintings. No wonder it’s such a part of our lives, whether we read it or not. We even use the word "Romeo" to mean any young man in love – it’s become part of our language.
Speaking of language, Time magazine undertook a study to find the top 15 most beloved quotes from Shakespeare, using as its source the most highlighted lines by anonymous readers in Kindle versions of Shakespeare’s plays. Some of the quotes are certainly iconic, like “To be or not to be” from Hamlet, or “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em,” from Twelfth Night. But the only one from Romeo and Juliet that makes the top 15 is “Young men’s love then lies Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” How bizarre!
No less an authority than the Royal Shakespeare Company has its own list of famous lines from Romeo and Juliet, and it does not include that odd quote, but does include ones we all know, like “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” and “A plague on both your houses!” Haven't we all said at least one of these lines at some point in our lives?
Perhaps Romeo and Juliet is such a part of our culture because it’s been made into a film at least 50 times, in multiple languages from Portuguese to Hindi and Japanese to Swedish. Some of the titles are interesting – like The Sea Prince and the Fire Child (Japan), Loving Hurts You (Spain), and Fury of Johnny Kid (Italy)! Of course, West Side Story is the most famous reinterpretation of the classic star-crossed lovers story, first a hugely popular Broadway musical and then a smash hit film that won ten Oscars, including Best Picture.
Many of us probably remember the overwrought Franco Zeffirelli movie from 1968, starring Olivia Hussey as Juliet and Leonard Whiting as Romeo. The director wanted unknown teenagers to play the lead roles, and it’s one of the few times that the parts have been played actors close to the ages of the young lovers from the play (often, the actors have been at least ten and sometimes twenty or thirty years too old!). Nino Rota, who would later score The Godfather films, wrote the music for Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, and his "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet," also known as "A Time for Us," was later arranged and released as a pop hit by Henry Mancini and, with lyrics added, became a hit for Andy Williams too. Just to be clear, however, it’s not the piece that we’ll be performing on May 4 and 5!
In Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture,” which we will perform in Legendary Love Stories, the composer repeated the same musical theme at the ball, in the balcony scene, in Juliet's bedroom and in the tomb. This device was later used by Zeffirelli, leveraging Nino Rota's “Love Theme,” and by Baz Luhrmann in the 1996 movie Romeo + Juliet. Luhrmann’s version of a love theme was Des'ree's “Kissing You,” which along with songs by Garbage and Radiohead made the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack a huge hit. That film’s success with the MTV generation embedded the story of Romeo and Juliet even deeper into popular culture worldwide.
Join the Cape Symphony on May 4 and 5 for Legendary Love Stories, and hear for yourselves the beauty of Tchaikovsky’s take on Romeo and Juliet, a legend that lives on even today. Get tickets now at capesymphony.org or call 508.362.1111.