Roméo et Juliette, Opera by C. Gounod
Roméo et Juliette is that rare example of an opera where the music supersedes the drama it depicts. Charles Gounod knew that he could not improve upon the narrative of the original, focusing instead on how his composition might best reveal the emotions of the characters.
His instincts proved to be quite prescient. Even today, Romeo and Juliet is probably the best known of Shakespeare’s tales and the dialogue of the balcony scene the most often quoted.
Familiarity with the story permits the audience to concentrate on the beauty of the melodies and subtlety of the orchestration which Gounod so deftly combines in this wonderful work. Just one example, the duet “Ah! Ne fuis pas encore!” between Romeo and Juliet, where each declares their love for one another, finds the strings reinforcing Romeo’s defiance while a single oboe plaintively echoes Juliet’s resignation.
Throughout it is possible to imagine the instruments as a third unseen protagonist sympathising with the plight and turmoil of the two lovers. It is a piece which quite literally raises goosebumps.
A tale of impossible love, a love thwarted by two feuding families which hurtles towards an unavoidable and tragic end, Roméo et Juliette resonates with audiences today as much as it did when it was first performed some 150 years ago. Premiered at Paris’ Théâtre Lyrique in 1867, and now in performance at the Vienna State Opera, it is a work where the plot serves to inspire a musical interpretation which both lays bare and connects us with our innermost feelings.