Musical. It’s been called the best musical in the world. Now a completely new version of the timeless classic West Side Story will be performed at the Göteborg Opera.
Premiere September 17, 2011
”It is - quite simply - extremely good.” GöteborgsPosten
"A musically charged West Side Story." Sveriges Radio Cultural News
”Both the dancers, soloists and the orchestra maintain an ease and a fascinating sound." GöteborgsPosten
"They (Tony and Maria) have made the roles their own, fully exploring all the feelings inherent in each role." Sveriges Radio Cultural News
Watch a clip from the performance.
Perhaps it’s the timelessness of the theme: a conflict between people from different backgrounds, a portrayal of the teenage years when everything is just as much a game as deadly serious, a story about breathtaking, absorbing love and its mirror image counterpart – consuming hatred. Maybe it is the form: the big dance numbers that brilliantly drive forward the action just as much as the dialogue and the singing. Perhaps it is the exquisite music: composed by Leonard Bernstein when he was at the pinnacle of his career and was one of the world’s leading conductors, equally skilled in classical music as interested in interpreting and expressing his own time in music. West Side Story is known for a variety of different reasons as “the world’s best musical” and since its premiere in 1957 has been interpreted and reinterpreted, seen and loved by people throughout the world. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet it is a tragic love story in a big city environment with two rival youth gangs at its centre.
“Everyone must be, or appear to be teenagers, be able to sing following a very difficult musical score, be able to play very difficult roles and dance very difficult dances” Leonard Bernstein commented the cast before the first performance.
Watch pictures from the performance.
Watch a movie from the rehearsal.
Watch a movie from the rehearsal.
In The Göteborg Opera’s new production, Stina Ancker, Nick Davies and Peter Svenzon have carefully selected the 39 artists who will be embodying their particular vision. Stina Ancker has previously directed Mary Poppins (2008) at The Göteborg Opera, Nick Davies conducted Guys and Dolls (2009) and Peter Svenzon, head of the dance company Art of Spectra, choreographed Prolog (2009). Irena Kraus is responsible for the new translation into Swedish. In season 2010/2011 she wrote the libretto to Min mamma är en drake (My Mum is a Dragon).
Costume sketches by Kajsa Larsson.
American Romance and current politics
It was groundbreaking at the first performance and raises issues that are just as relevant today. Add the music, which was created by one of the giants of the 20th century, legendary choreography and a film version that became as popular as the musical. The result is: West Side Story.
West Side Story is rightly listed amongst the foremost works within American musical theatre. Its creators were already (Bernstein and Robbins) or were just about to become (Laurents and Sondheim) giants within their respective disciplines in the show’s conception. Right from the Broadway premiere in September 1957 the work was talked about as groundbreaking. Never had so much dance been used in the narrative of a musical. In addition there was much reference, and in appreciative terms, of the artistically courageous portrayal of the conflict between first and second generation immigrants.
In 1961 came the touched up musically and lyrically adapted film version, greeted with skepticism by the creators (especially Bernstein) but with jubilation from both critics and the public. The following year it was awarded ten Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and further acclaim from the international public. 1962 was also the year that the Jets and the Sharks clashed for the first time on a Swedish stage. It took place in an English language guest performance at Oscarsteatern (Oscars). It would however, be another three years before Maria and Tony sang to each other in Swedish.
The first Swedish language production, also with the premiere at Oscars, included Eva Serning (Maria), Arne Strömgren (Tony), Lill Lindfors (Anita) and Eva Rydberg (Anybody) in the ensemble. The stage setting was clearly related to the Broadway original and not, as was often the case later, to the more famous film version. To try to make the gang conflicts between the Jets of Polish descent and the Puerto Rican Sharks understandable to Swedish observers, who at most had one or two workforce immigrants and the quarrels between indigenous ‘raggare’ gangs to relate to, was not relevant. Instead emphasis was placed on the romanticising of the attractive, but dangerous USA and on the tragic love story. During the following decades touring guest performances came from the USA and the United Kingdom at regular intervals to the country’s major venues, but just as often Swedish productions were staged. A common feature of the latter was the varying degree of attachment to the film version and – in line with the fact that the understanding for the original environment and the original problem intensified through television series, tourism and the convergence of other popular culture – an increased focus on gang rivalry. There have been several attempts in Swedish productions to link the musical to the present day. Many directors have in one way or another, tried to make the Jets and the Sharks into more or less pronounced Swedes and immigrants to Sweden. The equivalent has also occurred widely in other countries, despite the text in its original form providing very little scope for such temporal and spatial reinterpretations. When the work’s screenwriter Arthur Laurents directed the return of the work to Broadway in 2009 he was very keen to make the production authentic in terms of time, space, culture and expression.
Laurents’ main immediate intervention was to allow the Sharks for the most part to speak and sing in Spanish. He suggested that this would have been impossible at the time of the first performance, but that the audience now represents several cultural backgrounds and that the understanding therefore is more immediate. For him the important change was a theatrical matter. The young people who played the Jets and the Sharks should in themselves exude and constantly embody all the youthful aimlessness, aggression and frustration that in the earlier productions could only be suggested in choreography and music. The production was a new start for a work, which is currently strictly controlled by publishers and legislation but which, within these frameworks in all honesty, still has the potential to provoke.