Boris Romanov and
the Russian romantic theatre
Prokofiev at work
Romanov at work
The Ballet: Scenario and Music
The Ballet: Performances
23 Letter to Romanov, 17 October 1925, unpublished, The Serge Prokofiev Archive.
24 Marziano Bernardi, Riccordo Gualino e la cultura torinese, Le manifestazioni del ‘Teatro de Torino’, a cura di Guido M. Gatti, (Torino: Centro Studi Piemontesi, 1970), p. 98.
25 Kelsey, 48.
Much about the performances is as vague, although a document at The Serge Prokofiev Archive provided some of the missing clues. At the back of a photo of one of the performances of Trapèze (reproduced in this article) Lina Prokofiev inscribed that the première had taken place in a small German town, Gotha, followed by performances in Hanover and Turin. Recently acquired reviews from the Gotha Daily newspaper (Gothaisches Tageblatt) of 7 and 9 November 1925 confirm that the première took place on Friday 6 November 1925. These two reviews also provide a few details about the production. Trapèze and Hommage à Schubert (as the Schubert Waltzes were retitled for the ballet) were performed as a triple bill with La Pâtisserie enchantée, a choreographic “fantasy” on music by Tchaikovsky. Although charmed by the décors, “flowing silk” and sumptuous colours of the ballets, the reviewer enjoyed far less the modernity of Hommage à Schubert commenting, just as Romanov had feared, “What upsets the overall picture is the fact that the grand pianos take up too much space on stage”.
But Trapèze, described as a circus ballet, was better received even though “the dancing was completely overshadowed by the intensity of the colours and the luxurious drapery”. It was perceived as “funny, fantastical, clownlike”, confirming the decision Romanov had made earlier to emphasise the “grotesque”. Thankfully one reviewer names some of the characters: “The tightrope walker floats, the wild beast tamer blazes up wildly; the sailor is clumsy and yet very agile, the King of the air is supple. […] The clowns are grotesque and vivacious. The scenery gives you the impression that you are sitting in front of an expressionist picture.” (7 November).
Unfortunately though, Gotha was a small provincial town and the public was scarce. The company went on to perform in the neighbouring town of Hanover on 9 and 11 November. In spite of Prokofiev’s statement in his autobiography that his ballets toured Germany, there is no evidence at this stage that they were taken to other German cities, least of all Berlin where Romanov had repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, attempted to premiere the two works. In the spring of 1926, the company left for Italy on a prestigious tour arranged by Braunsweg. From 4 to 12 March they performed in Turin an ambitious programme of seven ballets, including Trapèze and Hommage à Schubert.(24) According to Braunsweg, “their ten-day season was a disaster and they were forced to abandon scenery and costumes and return to Berlin, where the company disbanded.”(25) These seem to have been the last performances of Prokofiev’s least known and performed ballets, Trapèze and Hommage à Schubert.
It seems therefore that many aspects of the final production of Trapèze did not meet with Prokofiev’s expectations or approval. As suggested in his last letter there were too many “dissonances” between the music and the production. Even though he had been closely involved in the rehearsals – he had purposefully selected a summer house near Paris to make himself available – he did not attend the première which took place while he was appearing in Stockholm.
As a composer he was pleased with the Quintet music, and had secured its integrity by publishing it in its original form as a concert piece. He assured the survival of the two remaining movements, which he had decided not to include in the Quintet, by creating a new symphonic work, Divertimento Op.43, in which Overture and Matelote would sit more coherently than in Trapèze. Prokofiev orchestrated them in two stages. First Diaghilev asked him to incorporate the Overture in Le Pas d’Acier, which the composer declined. He nevertheless agreed that it could be performed between the two tableaux of Le Pas d’Acier and orchestrated it for that purpose. In 1929 the Overture, after some slight revisions, reached its final form as the first movement of Divertimento while Matelote, heavily revised and re-orchestrated, became the third movement of the same work.
Meanwhile the long-forgotten original version of these two movements remained in manuscript form until recently. In the absence of the orchestrated manuscript, Overture and Matelote have recently been re-orchestrated from the piano manuscript. Together with the Quintet music, they will offer at long last Prokofiev’s complete music for Trapèze. The concert première of this revised version will take place on the opening night of the Manchester Prokofiev 2003 Festival (31 January 2003), performed by members of the BBC Philharmonic. The staged première of the ballet will happen in London, Sadlers Wells (8 April 2003) a production of Christopher Hampson with the English National Ballet. Back