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Charles Francois Gounod

Romeo and Juliet

Gounod. "Romeo et Juliette", Arena di Verona, 08.2011. Part 1.

Gounod. "Romeo et Juliette", Arena di Verona, 08.2011. Part 2.

Of all the masterpieces of literature on which the team of Barbier & Carre, libretto manufacturers extraordinary, operated, the one they treated with greatest respect was Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Though the scenario is considerably condensed, especially in Act I, and though the low-comedy servant Peter is omitted and a charming page boy named Stephano substituted, the outlines of the story are faithfully followed, the principal characters retain their Shakespearean vitality, and even many of the lines are directly translated or at least paraphrased. One major concession to operatic requirements these industrious workmen did have to make: they permitted Juliet to awaken soon enough to indulge in a duet with Romeo before he died of his poison. But even here there was the justification of literary history: Brooke, the author of the poem that was one of Shakespeare’s principal sources, had done the same thing.

Adelina Patti, the most famous of Juliets, also followed at least one portion of the story with faithfulness to the spirit of the text. In the 1880’s, when she was married to (but separated from) the Marquis de Caux, she sang the role at the Paris Op6ra with a French tenor named Nicolini. (His real name was Ernest Nicolas, but he changed it out of respect for Italy, which appreciated his singing more than did his native country.) The principals were as much in love, apparently, as the characters they were representing; and one heartless observer (could he have been a critic?) tallied twenty-nine genuine kisses that passed between them during the balcony scene. When Patti was finally divorced from the Marquis, this operatic couple was married—and lived lyrically together for twelve years, at the end of which the tenor died and the soprano returned to the aristocracy as the Baroness Cederstrom.



(Romeo et Juliette)

Opera in five acts by Charles Gounod
with libretto in French by Jules Barbier
and Michel Carre, based on Shakespeare’s play



JULIET, his daughter
GERTRUDE, her nurse
TYBALT, Capulet’s nephew
GREGORY, a Capulet

ROMEO, a Montague
friend of Romeo
BENVOLIO, friend of Romeo
STEPHANO, Romeo’s page

COUNT PARIS, engaged to Juliet



Time: 14th century
Place: Verona

First performance at Paris, April 27, 1867


Count Capulet:

Baritone. Father of Juliet. Leader of the Capulets, rivals of the Montagues. Created (1867) by Mons. Troy.


Soprano. Daughter of Count Capulet. She meets and secretly marries Romeo, son of a Montague, long‐standing rivals of her father. After killing Tybalt in a duel, Romeo is exiled. Juliet's father plans her marriage to Count Paris, and in order to avoid this, she drinks a potion which renders her unconscious, and her family believe she is dead. She is taken to the family crypt. Romeo, seeing her apparently dead, swallows poison. She awakens to find him dying and stabs herself with his sword. Duet (with Romeo): Nuit d'hyménée, O douce nuit d'amour (‘Night, Hymeneal, sweetest night of love’). Created (1867) by Maria Caroline Miolan‐Carvalho.

Roméo et Juliette 

Juliette - Anna Netrebko
Roméo - Rolando Villazón
Gertrude - Suzanna Guzmán
Frère Laurent - Reinhard Hagen
Le comte Capulet - Simone Alberghini
Tybalt - Florian Laconi
Mercutio - Marc Barrard
Stéphano - Anna Maria Panzarella
Gregorio - Gregorio González
Pâris - David Babinet 
Benvolio - Peter Nathan Foltz 
Le duc - Michael Gallup 
Frère Jean - Jinyoung Jang

Los Angeles Opera Orchestra
Direction musicale - Frédéric Chaslin

Juliet, 1877 by Thomas-Francis Dicksee


Mezzo-soprano. Juliet 's nurse. Created ( 1867 ) by Mme Duclos.


Tenor. Nephew of Capulet's wife. He is killed by Romeo in a duel, resulting in Romeo's exile from Verona. Created (1867) by Mons. Puget.


Tenor. Romeo, a Montague, meets and falls in love with the Capulet Juliet and they are secretly married. In a fight he kills Tybalt, Capulet's nephew, and is exiled. When Romeo sees Juliet unconscious he is unaware that, in order to avoid a marriage her father has arranged, she has deliberately taken a potion which makes her simulate death. He believes her to be dead and takes poison. Aria: Ah! lève-toi soleil (‘Ah! fairest dawn arise’). Created (1867) by Pierre Michot.

Romeo and Juliet by Hugues Merle

Charles Gounod.- ROMEO ET JULIETTE

Romeo: FRANCO CORELLI tenor.
Juliette: MIRELLA FRENI soprano.
Tybalt:  ROBERT CARDONA tenor.
Stefano: ELIANE LUBLIN soprano.
Benvolio: MAURICE AUZEVILLE tenor.
Mercutio: HENRI GUI baryton.
Paris:  YVES BISSON baryton.
Gertrude: MICHELE VILMA mezzo-soprano.
Gregorio: CHRISTOS GRIGORIOU baryton.
Capulet:  CLAUDE CALES baryton.
Le Duc de Verone: PIERRE THAU basse.
Frere Laurent: XAVIER DEPRAZ basse.
Theatre National de l' Opera- Paris.
Chef des Choeurs: JEAN LAFORGE.
Pathe Marconi 1969.


Baritone. A Montague supporter, friend of Romeo. He is killed by Tybalt in a duel. Created ( 1867 ) by Auguste Barré.



Tenor. Nephew of the Montagues, friend of Romeo. Created
( 1867 ) by Mons. Laurent.


Soprano. Travesti role. Page to Romeo. Created ( 1867 ) by Mlle Daram.

Count Paris:

Baritone. Engaged to Juliet. Created (1873) by Mons. Laveissiere.

Friar Lawrence:

Bass. Friar Lawrence. He agrees to secretly marry Romeo and Juliet. When Romeo is exiled and Capulet wants Juliet to marry Paris, Friar Lawrence gives her a potion which, when drunk, will make her simulate death. Thus she avoids the wedding and is taken to the family crypt to await Romeo's arrival. Created ( 1867 ) by Mons. Cazaux.



Shakespeare’s play is prefaced with a prologue in the form of a sonnet spoken by a single actor denominated “Chorus.” Its well-known lines begin:

Two houses, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene . . .

and goes on to speak of the “star-cross’d lovers.” Gounod’s opera begins with the same sonnet, but the lines of “Chorus” are sung by the full chorus.

An 1870 oil painting by Ford Madox Brown depicting the play's famous balcony scene


Act I begins with the ballroom scene, which, in Shakespeare’s play, is Scene 5. However, the librettists manage to tell us all the important things that happen in the earlier scenes—and even a few that don’tl The curtain rises to the music of a waltz being danced to at a party given by the Capu-lets. Tybalt discusses his cousin Juliet's forthcoming marriage with the Count Paris. (Incidentally, no one has bothered to tell Juliet that she has been betrothed. Parents did things in a rather highhanded way in those days.)

Pretty soon, along comes that pompous old bore Lord Capu-let, Juliet's father. He introduces his daughter to the company, and she obliges with a very nice little aria. It shows her to have at least one very marked talent—a fine coloratura.

It appears, however, that there are some unwanted guests at the ball—a group of the hated Montagues. One of them is Romeo, and he naturally has fallen in love with Juliet at first sight. Mercutio teases him about it a bit, and he sings a light baritone aria—a French paraphrase of the famous Queen Mab speech. Next there is a scene between the nurse and Juliet, and when marriage is hinted at to our heroine, she claims she wants none of it. It is then that she has her most famous aria —the well-known Waltz Song. Ironically, she meets a moment later the man she is to marry. Juliet and Romeo have the first of the series of love duets that characterize this opera, and at its end Juliet is just as much in love as Romeo is.

But Cousin Tybalt believes he recognizes the voice of a Montague. He is not certain, for the guests are wearing masks. However—hotheaded fellow that he is—he is ready to cause trouble and is restrained with some difficulty by the host, Lord Capulet, who insists that there be no trouble at his party. He urges everyone to dance, and so the act ends as it began —with a waltz chorus.

Frank Dicksee - Romeo and Juliet


Act II is the familiar balcony scene. It begins—as does Shakespeare’s balcony scene—with Romeo escaping from his jolly companions, and finding himself beneath Juliet’s balcony. “He jests at scars that never felt a wound,” he mutters to himself (in French, of course), and then he sings his big aria, Ahl Uve-toi, soleil!

The balance of the act is an exceptionally fine love duet. As in Shakespeare, it is Juliet who proposes marriage-and a very speedy one-and Romeo eagerly agrees. Twice during the course of the long duet they are interrupted. Once it is a party of Capulets who are still searching for the Montagues, and once it is the nurse, who urges Juliet to go to bed. Toward the close there is the famous couplet about “parting is such sweet sorrow"; and then, after Juliet has followed the nurse indoors, Romeo breaths a few more ecstatic phrases.

Romeo And Juliet Painting by MotionAge Designs


Scene 1 is very brief, consisting largely of the secret marriage of Romeo and Juliet. They come to the cell of the good old Friar Lawrence; Romeo explains that they wish to be married quickly and secretly; the friar decides such a marriage may end the bitter feud between the Montagues and the Capulets; and the ceremony is performed. At the end there is a quartet of rejoicing, in which they are joined by the nurse.


Henri Pierre - Romeo and Juliet

Scene 2 contains a good deal of action and one brand-new, non-Shakespearean character. This is the page Stephano. He is an elegant, gay, and fearless young Montague—so young, in fact, that his part is sung by a soprano. He opens the scene by singing a pert and insulting serenade to the Capulets, Que fais-tu, blanche tourtereUe? Gregory, a Capulet, starts to attack him with a sword. But a group of Montagues arrives, and very quickly there is serious trouble. Tybalt challenges Romeo, and Romeo, who has just been married to Tybalt’s cousin, refuses the challenge. The hotheaded Mercutio takes it up instead, and when he is slain by Tybalt, Romeo can no longer restrain himself. He attacks Tybalt and slays him in turn. Now older and wiser heads appear, Lord Capulet and the Duke of Verona among them. The Duke, properly shocked by the bloodshed, banishes Romeo from the city. This is the worst possible fate for the tragic newlywed, and he leads the ensemble in a fine concerted number bewailing his misfortune.

"The last kiss given to Juliet from Romeo."
Painting by Francesco Hayez, 1823


Act IV begins with the third of the four love duets that melodiously punctuate this sad story. Romeo and Juliet have spent their one night together, and it is now time for Romeo to depart. The Duke has decreed that if he is found within the walls of Verona, he shall forfeit his life. In vain the lovers imagine that it is the nightingale and not the lark who sings (to quote Shakespeare) “so out of tune.” Very much in tune, die soprano and the tenor take a tragic farewell.

But worse is in store for poor Juliet. Her father comes in to tell her that she must marry the Count Paris at once. She is utterly distraught, and when she is left alone with Friar Lawrence, she begs for advice. She is ready for anything—even death. The friar conveniently produces a phial. In it, he explains, there is a drug. If she drinks it, she will appear to be dead for forty-two hours. At the end of that time, he promises, he will have brought Romeo back to her. Quickly she takes the drink.

Thereupon, oddly enough, there is a ballet in several movements. I say “oddly enough” because it wasn't originally in the score. Gounod obligingly supplied it when the opera was first given at the National Opera, a year after its premiere at the Th&ltre Lyrique. The fashionable members of the Jockey Club always insisted on a ballet in the middle of any opera given at the big house, and who was a mere composer to object? The ballet makes no dramatic sense at all, but the music is rather pretty.

Now Lord Capulet reappears to urge on the marriage. Wildly Juliet cries that the grave shall be her marriage bed— and she falls in a dead faint as everyone is horror-struck. The drug, apparently, has done the first part of its work during the ballet.

The Marriage Of Romeo And Juliet by Francesco Hayez


The last brief and tragic act is devoted largely to the last of the love duets. It opens, however, with a little tone poem
supposed to describe Juliet's deathlike sleep in the vault of the Capulets. Romeo (who has heard that she is dead—not that she is only drugged) comes into the vault to sing a last farewell, O ma femmel o ma bien aimee!

Thereupon he, too, takes a drag—only, his is real poison, not merely a sleeping draught like Juliet’s. A moment later Juliet begins to wake and learns to her horror what Romeo has done. One more duet they have, but the poison works too well, and Romeo is dying. Quickly she seizes her dagger—and the two most famous lovers in literature die in each other’s arms.


Julet feigns death by Frederic Leighton

Charles Francois Gounod

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