By Martha Thomas

Edward Berkeley, a seasoned director of both plays and opera, has worked for more than 25 years on the faculty of The Juilliard School. He staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the BSO’s 2013–2014 season with Marin Alsop conducting, and for the New York Philharmonic in 2005 under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner. His award-winning work has spanned from Broadway to the Aspen Opera Theater Center to The Old Globe, with opera venues from Houston to Ravinia in the mix. He directs Romeo and Juliet with Marin Alsop and the BSO October 16–18.

This interview originally appears in the September-October issue of Overture.

How did all this come about?

The idea for this, which really came about after I did Midsummer, was combining the Prokofiev ballet score with Shakespeare. I first went through the Prokofiev score — which is enormous — to see which elements went best with Shakespeare. Then I went to Shakespeare to see what parts of the text could be cut to help with meshing the two pieces. Then I came up with a script that puts the two together.

Edward Berkeley 4
Edward Berkeley

There are sections where dialogue is acted on top of Prokofiev, then sections where Prokofiev and Shakespeare are on their own. The combining of it creates a powerful mix using the music and the text. What Prokofiev did was very savvy in terms of specifying different scenes. The musical beauty, for example, of the balcony scene, or the moment when Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time — the music captures the beauty of the text. The score is like the emotional subtext or undercurrent of the play. I’m hoping that acting scenes mixed with music will be the best of both.

Is this the first time to your knowledge that the ballet score has been performed with words?

It’s the first time I’ve done it. It is an experiment. Having text with the music will be really gorgeous. I think it will be quite an event. I’m sure there may be moments where we go, “oops, that didn’t go as well as we hoped.” But mostly there will be some very powerful places.

Will the play be dramatically shortened?

It’s a two-and-a-half-hour play. The concert as a whole will be less than that, so combining text and music meant some text had to be trimmed. I want the text to feel natural with the music. I hope with judicious cutting I don’t lose the meaning or the elegance of Shakespeare’s language, while at the same time supporting the music. I always assume in projects like this that people don’t know the plot. We need to tell the story as if it’s the first time anyone has heard the tale.