Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Bell Shakespeare
Hamer Hall, November 1 & 2

THIS collaboration worked well enough, but its musical content did not impress as even moderately adventurous. Rather than an exploration of a variety of interpretations connected with Shakespeare's tragic love story, the MSO stuck to a mainstream path with two famous Russian visions of the drama: Tchaikovsky's effective and ever-popular overture-fantasy heading the illustrative operations, with excerpts from the Prokofiev ballet providing the bulk of the program.

The solitary excursion outside this well-tilled field came with The Walk to the Paradise Garden, the only segment of Delius' opera A Village Romeo and Juliet to have achieved a place in the repertoire. While the Tchaikovsky work might have gained from a more expansive approach from Benjamin Northey's direction, the ambling Delius pastorale and the superlatively scored Prokofiev score came off to generally fine effect, the strings as highly efficient in the hyper-tense drive of the Death of Tybalt pages as in the soaring outpourings of the ballet's concluding grim scenes in the Capulets' vault.

Declaiming short extracts from the play, three young members of Bell Shakespeare worked at full pitch; Nicholas Masters making an appealing Romeo, and well-matched by an emotionally mobile Juliet from Andrea Demetriades, while Kane Felsinger hurtled through Benvolio's lines. But acting honours inevitably went to director John Bell as both a magisterially implacable Prince and an intolerant, bullying Capulet.