Romeo and Juliet | Melbourne Symphony Orchestra & Bell ShakespeareMusic is a constant companion to Shakespeare's work, appearing at significant moments throughout his plays - be it associated with magic or the supernatural, or with transformation and new spiritual realisation. In Romeo and Juliet, the snatches of reference to music are short and sweet. The music of the timeless play is in it's heart, and in the diversity of the emotions witnessed and felt by Montague, Capulet, and audience onlooker. The old masters - Tchaikovsky, Delius, Prokofiev found the heart of the fleeting romance and wove their music around that inspiration. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra take the iconic pieces and interweave them with snatches of performance by the Bell Shakespeare Company.

The newly refurbished Hamer Hall houses the well-groomed assortment of professionals, the new acoustics put to good use by the resplendent sounds of the orchestra. Conducted by Benjamin Northey, the finesse and thought put into each individual performance is representative of the calibre that's come to be expected of the MSO. Tchaikovsky's emotive and dreamy Romeo and Juliet is performed with all the heart and tragic, unfailing hope that's associated with the young lovers. Transcendent, it appears as a recurring theme throughout the other pieces. Brought back both melancholy but intrinsically sweet, Tchaikovsky's extraordinary musical transposition of fleeting and heartfelt love is an intelligent and requited motif throughout the night. The MSO remain sublime throughout their rendition of other familiar pieces: Dance of the Knights is another that shines in all it's thundering, heavy tones. The percussion are significant in their honed ability to hold their weight against the richer tones of the basses and the stirring of strings. With their elegantly shifted dynamics and steady racing through the discordant tones of ever-present death, it's easy to lose yourself in the story told.

Lighting is also efficiently used. Projections against the back of the hall set the scene and mood for the actors, be it cloud or the scarlet of Tybalt's blood against the wall and down on the violently thundering orchestra. They set the mood for the music, and while redundant in the orchestra's capability to elicit emotion in a few bars, the theatricality adds a further dynamic to the night's performance.

The performers are an interesting touch to a well-balanced night. The collaboration is well-intended; what better fit for a sweeping performance than the passion of music combined with the great emotion of Shakespeare's soliloquies? While the arrangement of musicians behind actors spotlighted in front of them is somewhat uncomfortable, John Bell, Kane Felsinger, Andrea Demetriades and Nicholas Masters as Capulet/The Prince, Benvolio, Juliet and Romeo respectively are intelligent and charming in their elocution. Demetriades and Masters are giddy and innocent as passionate lovers; their subsequent separation and bleak final soliloquies are a thing of untempered sorrow and devastating to witness. While Demetriades' Australian accent and odd miking can come off as abrasive in comparison to Masters and Felsinger's refined, ambiguous accents, her ability to wring raw tears and horror is moving. Similarly, Masters' precise physicality conveys a dozen emotions in a pause, a gesture. His Romeo is noticeably sweeter than others, less arrogant, an interpretation that makes his character's fate all the more distressing.

There's little that's overdone about the night, be it in staging or costume - but the swell of that irreplaceable music enchants beyond all. With the story of the starcrossed lovers retold through significant scenes, the heart of Shakespeare's most famous love story is eloquently and concisely conveyed.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Bell Shakespeare Company present
Romeo & Juliet

Conductor Benjamin Northey
Director John Bell

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall
Date: Thursday 1 and Friday 2 November, 2012 at 8pm
Tickets: from $60

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