The Music of Don Freund
Romeo and Juliet: A Shakespearian Music-Drama (2008)
Don Freund's Romeo and Juliet: A Shakespearian Music-Drama was presented at the Bloomington Playwrights Project September 25-28, 2008. Videos of two complete performances from this production can be viewed in high or low resolution by following the “Videos” link.
The adapted text can be read in the "R&J cast and text.pdf" file. A link to the synopsis is above that link.
The Vocal Score is in 3 pdf files, one for each act. The first page of each file gives a listing of scenes by characters and page numbers.
MIDI mp3 files have been created to assist the singing actors in learning the music; these are on this site. These mp3 files are in stereo: the voices are in the left channel and the piano is in the right channel.
While the idea of yet another version of Romeo and Juliet may seem something less than “cutting edge,” I have discovered that the familiarity of the story and the iconic power of the poetic text provide a sturdy launch pad for a new kind of intertwining of words, drama, and music. In this re-invention of the music-theatre medium, the musical materials must be artful enough to respond to the characterizations and dramatic interactions of Shakespeare’s text, but also simple enough to allow the singing actors a naturalness that communicates with an audience on a personal, human-scaled level. The glories of Shakespeare’s poetry and the vitality of his dramatic constructions take on a special resonance when song and music is worked into the tapestry.
All of the “lyrics” are Shakespeare’s texts, abridged from five acts to three. The vocal writing for the leading characters is created in a tuneful style appropriate for young, clear, not particularly large voices, and a priority is placed on making the language readily intelligible and dramatically compelling. The choice of piano as the only instrumental component gives the actors freedom from concerns about audibility and instrumental ensemble issues.
My goal has been to capture in a music-theatre work the kind of immediacy one can find only in small theatre productions with effective but minimal sets and lighting, ingenious stage direction and charismatic actors. I believe the enclosed DVD demonstrates how the tuneful prosody of the vocal lines and the musical shaping of the dramatic events has allowed the very talented cast and production team of this BPP production to create a performance that involved, delighted and moved its audience.
Many of those in the sold-out audiences commented on how this production allowed them to appreciate Shakespeare in a remarkably fresh and thoroughly engaging way. Critic Peter Jacobi wrote in the Bloomington Herald-Times, “The score holds profoundly powerful touches that seep into the play’s atmosphere. At those moments, and they come along abundantly, a viewer/listener is likely to be startled into a fresh take on an old and familiar tale. Freund’s love for and knowledge of Shakespeare’s masterpiece is much in evidence, and that devotional combine has been wedded to the composer’s vividly creative imagination. As a result, one can enjoy masterful, occasionally even memorable, scenes: a dreamy and steamy balcony encounter fueled by sweeps of musical passion; the marriage in Friar Laurence’s cell; the fury unleashed by Juliet’s parents when she refuses to marry Paris; the lovers in final embrace after Romeo has been banished, and the whole denouement leading to the lovers’ suicides. Those final scenes become close to spine-tingling, thanks to Shakespeare, of course, but also to music that heightens tension while not getting in the way of the ever mounting tragedy.”