It is a story made for the stage: Francesca da Rimini is a deceived woman-in-love who disregards her arranged marriage, decides that she has the perfect right to true love, and ends up murdered. Dante originally wrote a few verses on this subject, but some decades later Boccaccio expanded the sketch into a tale containing all the ingredients of a genuine tragedy. In 1901 Gabriele D'Annunzio drew on this material to pen a scandalous fin de siecle drama.
The classic Shakespearean romantic tragedy is updated by director Baz Luhrmann to a post-modern Verona Beach where swords are merely a brand of gun and bored youths are easily spurred toward violence. Longtime rivals in religion and business, the Montagues and the Capulets share a page from the Jets and Sharks of West Side Story when they form rival gangs. Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) is aloof toward the goings-on of his Montague cousins, but after he realizes that Juliet (Claire Danes) is a Capulet at the end of one very wild party, the enmity between the two clans becomes the root of his angst. He relies heavily – and with serious consequences – on his rebel gender-bender of a friend, Mercutio (Harold Perrineau Jr.), and Father (not Friar) Lawrence (Pete Postlethwaite) for protection and support. Romeo is, of course, exiled, and it looks like Juliet will be forced into an arranged marriage with the bland Paris (Paul Rudd). It ends, as Romeo and Juliet must, when Romeo hears a tragic piece of misinformation and brings his suicide wish to what was meant to be Juliet 's temporary tomb.
Baz Luhrmann's garish, flamboyant adaptation of Romeo + Juliet was hyper-kinetic and colorful, boasting a heavy inspiration from the visual style of MTV, so it's only appropriate that the soundtrack was tailored for the alternative nation that MTV fostered. Combining modern rock acts like Garbage, Radiohead, the Cardigans, and the Butthole Surfers with contemporary soul like Des'ree and adult alternative like Gavin Friday, the album is slick, polished, catchy – and surprisingly strong. Though the soul and pop is good, the alternative rock acts on the soundtrack fare the best, with Garbage and Radiohead both contributing excellent B-sides ("Number One Crush" and "Talk Show Host," respectively), with the Cardigans' sleek, sexy lounge-disco number "Lovefool" stealing the show.
This 2008 live recording with the London Symphony Orchestra is Valery Gergiev's 2nd complete recording of Prokofiev's ballet Romeo & Juliet, the 1st being a 1991 Philips release with the Kirov Orchestra. This performance, like his 1st, is notable for its refinement & lyricism. It's perhaps surprising that Gergiev, known for the wildness & ferocity of his performances of other Prokofiev works, like The Fiery Angel, shows such restraint here. Gergiev clearly understands the ballet as a work in which Prokofiev, writing originally for the Bolshoi, a theater known for its conservatism (although that production was canceled), tailored his score to follow in the tradition of the 3 great Tchaikovsky ballets.
The Met's first production in more than 60 years is "treated with a keen appreciation for the special requirements of verismo and a practically vanished performing tradition. Scotto has found her ideal role…a great performance… Domingo sang glamorously… Levine's affectionate concern for the music told in every measure… The massive sets by Ezio Frigerio serve the work exquisitely … Piero Faggioni’s graceful direction strikes a perfect balance” (New York Magazine)