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16 days to go

William Shakespeare died in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616, and the first complete and accurate folio of his works, was published in 1623.

The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, to give its full title, is perhaps Shakespeareís most famous play, and arguably the greatest love story in western culture. Since it was written, over 400 years ago, it has become such a large part of popular culture that almost everyone has some idea of the basic outline of the story.

The play has inspired a huge number of spin-offs, of which ballets are only one part, and Sergei Prokofievís adaptation, not the first.

The only well-known musical adaptation of the tale is Leonard Bernsteinís hit Broadway show, Westside Story. This was made into a hugely successful film in 1961. Several other film versions of the story have been made. These include MGMís 1936 version, directed by George Cukor and a 1954 British-Italian version starring Laurence Harvey and Susan Shentall. Better known, is Franco Zeffirelliís 1968 modern take on the story, and better still Baz Luhrmannís 1996 film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The play or its story has been the inspiration for several pieces of classical orchestral music, including Tchaikovskyís famous Romeo and Juliet fantasy overture, premiered in 1870 and an enormous Romeo and Juliet Symphony (with orchestra and voices) by French composer Hector Berlioz, completed in 1839. Another French composer, Charles Gounod also wrote an opera, Roméo et Juliette, in 1864.

The first 20th-century balletic adaptation was by the British composer and Music Director of the Vic Wells Ballet, Constant Lambert. He wrote a Romeo and Juliet ballet for the great impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1926. He was one of only two British composers ever to receive commissions from the head of the Ballets Russes, the other being Lord Berners. Some other balletic versions were created to music by Luigi Marescalchi (1785), Sergei Titov (1809) and Klaus Nielsen Schall (1811).

None of these versions survive today, and Sergei Prokofievís hugely famous 1938 score is the only one regularly performed. Excerpts from it have appeared in films and on adverts, and the 'Dance of the Knights' from the Ballroom Scene in Act I is the Sunderland AFCís theme tune.



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