Great moments in opera: Roméo et Juliette

January 6, 2012

Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette had its premiere in Paris in 1867. It is a quite faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, even following the five act structure of its model. Though not an extremely well-known opera, it apparently enjoys greater popularity in France than elsewhere. I had never heard it before sitting down this week with a DVD performance. My first impressions were mixed; it has its beauties, and of course the story is good, but there is something about nineteenth-century French opera (and, for that matter, eighteenth-century and seventeenth-century French opera) that leaves me cool. Nonetheless, a few ‘great moments’ presented themselves.

In the first Act, Romeo and his friends attend the masked ball at the home of the Capulets. When the party has ended, Juliet sings Je veux vivre dans ce rêve (I want to live in this dream), which is sometimes simply called Juliette’s Waltz. It’s a popular recital piece, sung in this clip by Diana Damrau:

Early in the second Act Romeo approaches Juliette’s balcony and sings a lovely cavatina, Ah! Levè-toi soleil (Ah! Arise, fair sun), in which he expresses his love for her. She is inside at the time, and only emerges when the song is completed. Here is a concert performance by Juan Diego Florez:

The burden of Act III is to get the two married, and Act IV opens with the lovers awaking after their wedding night. Naturally, they sing a love duet: Nuit d’hymenee, O douce nuit d’amour (Night hymeneal, O sweet night of love). This goes on for quite a while, but it is pretty. Here are Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna. I believe this production is from the Met. Thank goodness they don’t fall off the bed!

We all know what happens in the final Act. Here is the tragic finale, sung again by Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna, in a clip with English subtitles. This is pretty great:

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