Charles Gounod

Roméo et Juliette, opera, CG 9

    Description by Jennifer Hambrick

    Charles Gounod had composed eight operas before completing Roméo et Juliette in 1867. Eight years had passed since Gounod's Faust propelled him to fame as an opera composer, and in between that work and Roméo et Juliette stood four dramatic works whose merits had not been consistently acclaimed. Roméo et Juliette premièred at Paris' Théâtre-Lyrique in 1867, and was first performed at the Opéra in 1888. Although it stands in second place to Faust, Roméo et Juliette remains one of Gounod's best-loved creations.

    Julies Barbier and Michel Carré followed Shakespeare's tragedy closely, but with some alterations, in crafting their libretto for Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. Earlier in the century, Paris had experienced "Shakespearomanie" as French Romantics were overwhelmed by the transcendent drama of the playwright's works. Gounod's Roméo et Juliette comes relatively late in a line of operatic treatments of the subject, about many of which Hector Berlioz wrote less than flatteringly in his 1859 essay on Vincenzo Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830).

    Indeed, some of Gounod's music recalls that of Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette symphony. Gounod begins his opera's overture with a theme stated three times by the trombones, followed by a fugato passage in the strings, essentially reversing the string fugato passage and low brass oration of the Introduction of the Berlioz work. The crystalline orchestration of Mercutio's Ballade de la Reine Mab in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette owes a debt to Berlioz's purely instrumental Queen Mab Scherzo, in which high woodwinds and buoyant violins musically characterize the mischievous dream fairy, and in which orchestration, as Beth Shamgar noted in 1988, plays a central role in articulating the narrative of Shakespeare's Queen Mab speech. Gounod's treatment of the tomb scene recalls Berlioz's purely instrumental version of it in his symphony. Sputtering fortissimo chords in the trombones -- later scored for trombones, horns, woodwinds, and strings -- convey Romeo's convulsions as the poison he drinks, believing Juliet to be dead, takes effect. Berlioz had conceived a similar, although more rhythmically charged, musical treatment of this aspect of the tomb scene. Quite apart from Berlioz's influence, Gounod's Roméo et Juliette opera contains the standard features of French opera, including arias in traditional formal arrangements, virtuosic solo vocal writing, large choral finales derived from smaller ensemble pieces, and instances of diagetic music. Juliette's Act One ariette (Ah! Je veux vivre dans ce rêve qui m'enivre) is a tuneful rondo-form waltz (a generic to the music of the Capulets' party that constitutes the basis of this scene) showcasing coloratura moments in a lyrical context. At the end of Act Three, a chorus of townspeople unites with the principal soloists in a grand finale. The solo organ music in Act Four functions simultaneously as diagetic music for the choir's procession to the wedding planned for Juliette and Paris and as an introduction to Capulet's aria Ma fille cede aux vœux du fiancé, which it continues to accompany.

    Parts/Movements

    1. No. 1, Introduction. L'heure s'envoie
    2. No. 2, Écoutez! écoutez!
    3. No. 3, Allons! jeunes gens!
    4. No. 4a, Recitative. Enfin la place est libre
    5. No. 4b, Ballade of Queen Mab. Mab, la reine des mensonges
    6. No. 4c, Recitative & Scene. Eh bien! que l'avertissment
    7. No. 5, Ariette (Waltz). Je veux vivre
    8. No. 6a, Recitative. Le nom de cette belle enfant?
    9. No. 6b, Madrigal. Ange adorable
    10. No. 7a, Finale. Quelqu'un!
    11. No. 7b, Le voici
    12. No. 8a, Chorus. O nuit! sous tes ailes
    13. No. 8b, Cavatina. L'amour, l'amour
    14. No. 8c, Ah! lève-toi, soleil
    15. No. 9, Chorus. Hélas! moi, le haïr!
    16. No. 10a, Duet. Ô nuit divine
    17. No. 10b, Ah! ne fuis pas encore
    18. No. 11, Scene. Mon père! Dieu vous garde!
    19. No. 12, Trio & Quartet. Dieu qui fit l'homme
    20. No. 13a, Chanson. Depuis hier je cherche en vain mon maître!
    21. No. 13b, Que faites-tu, blance tourterelle
    22. No. 14, Finale. Ah! voici nos gens!
    23. No. 15, Eh quoi? toujours du sang?
    24. No. 16a, Duet. Va! Je t'ai pardonné
    25. No. 16b, Nuit d'hyménée!
    26. No. 16c, Non, ce n'est pas le jour
    27. No. 17a, Quoi! ma fille
    28. No. 17b, Que l'hymne nuptiale
    29. No. 18a, Scene. Mon père! tout m'accable
    30. No. 18b, Buvez donc ce breuvage
    31. No. 19, Scene & Air. Dieu! quel frisson court dans mes veines!
    32. No. 20, Cortège nuptial
    33. No. 21, Finale. Ma fille, cède aux voeux
    34. No. 22, Le sommeil de Juliette
    35. No. 23, Scene & Duet. Salut! tombeau sombre

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2015
    Walhall
    WLCD 0356
    2012
    Decca
    4784372
    2012
    Decca
    2011
    Sony Classical
    8869780465
    2010
    EMI Classics
    2010
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099964070
    2007
    Opera D'Oro
    1477
    2007
    Gala Records
    100788
    2007
    Allegro Corporation
    9808
    2006
    EMI Music Distribution
    58624
    2006
    Decca
    455844
    2005
    Bella Voce
    7208
    2005
    Preiser Records
    20041
    2004
    Guild Historical
    GHCD2264/5
    2002
    Grand Tier
    93
    2001
    EMI Music Distribution
    473658
    1999
    Opera D'Oro
    1203
    1998
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243556123
    1996
    RCA
    68440
    1994
    EMI Music Distribution
    65290
    1994
    VAI Audio
    1064
    Standing Room Only
    849
    Le Monde de l'Opera
    35
    HRE Recordings
    1011