Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette

Event: Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
Date: January 21, 2017, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 3 hours 4 minutes
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for Romeo et Julietteper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for Romeo et Julietteper student • $11.00 online



Verona, 18th century. A chorus tells of the endless feud between the Montague and Capulet families, and of the love of their children, Roméo and Juliette.

Act I

At a masked ball in the Capulet palace, Tybalt assures Count Paris that Juliette, who has been promised to him, will enchant him. Capulet presents his daughter to the guests and invites them to dance. Mercutio and Roméo, a Montague, have donned masks to sneak into the ball, together with other friends. Roméo tells them about a strange dream he has had, but Mercutio dismisses it as the work of the fairy Queen Mab. Roméo watches Juliette dance and instantly falls in love with her. Juliette explains to her nurse, Grtrude, that she has no interest in marriage, but when Roméo approaches her in a quiet moment, both feel that they are meant for each other. Just as they discover each other’s identity, Tybalt happens upon them and recognizes Roméo. Capulet prevents him from attacking Roméo, who with his friends beats a hasty retreat.

Act II

Later that night, Roméo enters the Capulets’ garden, looking for Juliette. When she steps out onto her balcony, he comes forward and declares his love. Servants briefly interrupt their encounter. When they are alone once again, Juliette assures Roméo that she will be his forever.


Roméo visits Frère Laurent in his cell and confesses his love for Juliette. Shortly thereafter, she also appears with Gertrude. Hoping that their love might reconcile their families, Frère Laurent marries them.

Outside Capulet’s house, Roméo’s page, Stéphano, sings a song about a turtledove imprisoned in a nest of vultures. This provokes a fight with several of the Capulets. Mercutio comes to Stéphano’s aid, but is challenged to fight himself by Tybalt. Roméo steps between them and asks Tybalt to forget about the hatred between their families. Tybalt has nothing but scorn for him, and when he kills Mercutio in their duel, Roméo stabs Tybalt to death. The Duke of Verona appears, and partisans of both families demand justice. Roméo is exiled from the city.

Act IV

Roméo and Juliette have spent their secret wedding night in her room. She forgives him for killing Tybalt. The newlyweds passionately declare their love as day is dawning. They can hardly bring themselves to say goodbye. After Roméo has left, Capulet appears together with Frère Laurent and announces to his daughter that she is to marry Paris that same day. Desperate, Julia turns to Frère Laurent, who gives her a potion that will make her appear to be dead. He promises that she will awaken with Roméo beside her. Love lends Juliette courage: she overcomes her fear and swallows the poison. On the way to the chapel where the wedding to Paris is to take place, Juliette collapses. To the guests’ horror, Capulet announces that she is dead.

Act V

Roméo breaks into the Capulets’ crypt. Faced with the seemingly dead body of his wife, he takes poison. At that moment, Juliette awakes, and they share a final dream of future happiness. When Juliette realizes that Roméo is about to die, she decides to follow him so their love can continue in the afterlife. Before they both die, they ask God for forgiveness.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

Bellini, Zandonai, and more than 30 other composers made operas on it. Verdi wanted to, but didn’t. Berlioz sidestepped the issue by calling his a “dramatic symphony.” Gounod emerges the winner.

Not that his adaptation of Shakespeare’s beloved tragedy is universally admired. Rossini called it “a duet in three parts: one before, one during, and one after.” Verdi seconded that: “Then there’s the entire comic side, which Gounod ignored. I would have wanted to create a more spirited work with greater contrasts, not a long duet.” The Barbier/Carré libretto often departs from the play — for instance it omits the epilogue, ending instead with a “Liebestod” for the lovers — but until the 20th century’s Pelleas and Wozzeck nobody expected an opera to be merely a playscript set to music. Most of the major characters are present, including Mercutio, who gets his “Queen Mab” speech as an aria. Shakespeare’s prologue is expanded into a powerful choral introduction. The “sonnet’ dialogue when Romeo and Juliet meet at the ball becomes a madrigal. Juliet’s virtuosic waltz, the most famous number in the score, is a stand-in for her “Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds” speech. If the story has been romanticized, this after all was the Romantic era. And we modern sophisticates still tend to idealize the title characters’ adolescent love affair; think of the hyperemotional 1968 Zeffirelli film of the play.

Gounod’s version was originally an opera-comique, with spoken dialogue. On its way to becoming a grand opera suitable for performance at the Paris Opera, it underwent many transformations; dialogue became recitative, numbers were dropped and added, the obligatory ballet was included (nowadays seldom performed). There is no definitive version. George Bernard Shaw preferred the original: “As a ‘grand opera’ it has never been satisfactory. Its delicate music requires an exquisite tenderness of handling which would be lost in Covent Garden; and the great length of the work, which, except the fiery third act, is in the same vein throughout, makes it tedious in spite of the beauty of the music.”

Still, in both its original and revised versions, it was Gounod’s biggest success in his lifetime, more so than Faust. Shakespeare’s play has often been cited as his most “operatic” work, and the many adaptations would seem to bolster that claim. But Gounod’s is the only one to have entered the standard repertory. It’s easy to hear why.