Romeo & Juliet: Variations and Adaptations

A lecture and performance by Christopher Innes, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies & Brigitte Bogar, opera singer and former student at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, both of York University, Toronto

Romeo and Juliet have always been the most attractive and popular of ill-starred lovers. The original source - an Italian novella - was dramatized by Shakespeare, whose play set it on the world stage; it has since then been frequently reworked. Adapted in all sorts of ways, the story and its treatment reveal a great deal about the civilization and political pressures of different times; those pressures in turn influence the way in which the story has been told. there have been more musical versions of this story than of almost any other literary work, and in a very wide range of languages.  Operas from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been composed for librettos in Italian, German, French, English, and even Finnish, while there have also been musicals in French and of course English.  In addition, there are ballets as well as numerous paintings, sculptures and other forms of image deriving from the story and its characters.  All of this can be analysed to demonstrate the ways in which Shakespeare’s work has spoken to the social contexts of different times. For example, both Vaccai and Bellini reclaimed the story for the growing Italian nationalist movement, by basing their bel canto operas on the original Italian novella, conscious preferring it to the Shakespeare version; Delius created a Village Romeo and Juliet while Sondheim’s West Side Story transfers the tragedy to the ethnic gang wars of New York. This event will explore these versions and adaptations through visual images and musical excerpts from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries and up to the present moment.