Gounod’s Faust may overshadow his other eleven operas but
his Roméo et Juliette succeeded in running a sound second.
This Roméo et Juliette has much to commend it. Gounod’s version
follows the David Garrick revamping of Shakespeare’s take on the ancient
Italian story of passion and vendetta; just as did Berlioz for his
dramatic symphony. It allows Romeo and Juliet to have a scene together
before they both die. One of its strengths is the four romantic and
dramatic duets for the two principals plus considerable solos for
them and for other prominent characters. There’s also a major role
for the chorus who sketch in so much of the story.
The melodramatic and fugal overture speaks dramatically of the century-old
strife between the Montagues and Capulets. The choir eloquently fill
in detail and go on to describe the atmosphere and events of the Capulets’
ball with its delightful dance music. Gounod’s heady melodies, imaginatively
orchestrated, create an exciting and anticipatory atmosphere here.
This opening act has many riches including Juliette’s waltz song ‘Je
veux vivre dans le rêve’ in which she declares she wants to enjoy
her youth rather than succumb to the blandishments of Paris. Haughtily,
Alberola, sounding a little too mature for Juliette, rises to the
coloratura challenges of this celebrated aria. Her diction does not
always have the clarity that Bocelli brings to his Romeo. Bocelli
impresses throughout. Just listen to how ardently his tones ring out
as he declares his passion in the balcony scene. Then hear how he
communicates his utter despair in the final act aria, ‘Salut, tombeau
sombre et silencieux!’ as he sees his Juliette lying motionless on
a bier before discovering, too late to save himself, that her death
has been feigned. Romeo and Juliette’s four duets are dramatic and
emotional triumphs from the tender leave-taking at the end of the
balcony scene to the heart-rending tragedy of the final scene. Gounod’s
orchestral lullaby, as Romeo takes his leave is so tenderly captivating.
Another Act I treasure is Mercutio’s presto ballad about Queen Mab,
deceiver, weaver of dreams to Gounod’s quicksilver, will-o’-the-wisp
music. It’s delivered with gusto by Alessandro Luongo’s Mercutio.
Traversi’s Gertrude is all concern and conspiratorial assistance as
Juliette’s matronly nurse. The oaken-voiced Andrea Mastroni as Father
Laurent is another of this production’s strong assets. His aria ‘Buvez
donc ce breuvage’ as he hands Juliette the vial containing the draught
that will fake her death, is just another memorable moment. Again
Gounod’s orchestral backing, sympathetically read by Fabio Luisi,
speaks volumes. Juliette’s extended aria after she takes the draught
is another high point and Alberola is quite magnificent here especially
when she reaches that sublime melody at “… To fear, were my love to
betray! Never! Never! Rather for dead may he bemoan me!...”
An outstanding and memorable production
of Gounod’s ‘other opera’.