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Charles Gounod's
'Roméo et Juliette' -
reviewed by

'Musically the performance deserves all the applause it gets.'

Charles Gounod: Roméo et Juliette. © 2011 Bel Air Media

Shakespeare never visited Verona, though he made it the home town of Romeo and Juliet. He designed his play for the small dimension of the 'Wooden O' in London. Even Gounod had to be content with the Parisian Théâtre Lyrique when his opera on the subject was first performed in 1867. Neither could have conceived a setting for the story as gigantic as the Roman Amphitheatre at Verona, constructed after the manner of the Colosseum on an Olympic scale, nor much later. On one occasion I had to sympathise in the audience with a very remote Mimi in La bohème, whose tiny hand was probably more frozen than usual.

With Capulets inscribed in large letters stage left, and Montagus emblazoned on the opposite side, the chorus describes the deadly feud that has racked the city for so many years.

Watch and listen -- Gounod: Vérone vit jadis deux familles rivales (Roméo et Juliette)
(DVD1 title 2 chapter 3, 4:16-5:51)
© 2011 Bel Air Media -- NHK -- AMP -- Demetrius -- Fondazione Arena di Verona :

It soon becomes clear that the set designer, Edoardo Sanchi, is going to work throughout mainly with the aid of metal. Like me, he may have played as a boy with meccano. That would be reason enough for the variety of steel structures that do duty as background to the different scenes of the opera.

As in Shakespeare, there is a magnificent ball at the house of the Capulets, with Juliet's fiancé Paris in attendance. Heavily disguised, the Romeo of Stefano Secco and Artur Rucinski as Mercutio join the festivities. Whether Juliet was wise to choose the former rather than the latter must be a matter of taste. Romeo is all too aware of the danger they are in, whereas Mercutio is ready to hold forth on the subject of the delusions inspired by Mab, the fairy queen.

Watch and listen -- Gounod: Mab, la reine des mensonges (Roméo et Juliette)
(DVD1 title 2 chapter 9, 20:46-22:07)
© 2011 Bel Air Media -- NHK -- AMP -- Demetrius -- Fondazione Arena di Verona :

The time-chariot in which she travels turns out to be a vintage car with diaphanous wings.

For the balcony scene, Nino Machaidze as Juliet peers out of a porthole from her metallic bedroom to welcome the waiting Romeo, who has found a convenient ladder nearby.

Watch and listen -- Gounod: Ô nuit divine! (Roméo et Juliette)
(DVD1 title 2 chapter 20, 62:33-64:01)
© 2011 Bel Air Media -- NHK -- AMP -- Demetrius -- Fondazione Arena di Verona :

There is no need for me to describe the architecture of Friar Laurence's church. Giorgio Giuseppino makes an impressive figure within it and appears to have a workable solution to the problems of the young lovers, imagining that their marriage may go some way towards reconciling the warring families.

Watch and listen -- Gounod: Mon père! Dieu vous garde! (Roméo et Juliette)
(DVD1 title 2 chapter 22, 74:25-76:00)
© 2011 Bel Air Media -- NHK -- AMP -- Demetrius -- Fondazione Arena di Verona :

Friar Laurence could not be more mistaken. It is no time before gangs from both sides assemble in bellicose mood, ready to draw their weapons and shed blood if need be. The battle groups assemble separately, but such is the hatred between the two clans that the ensuing fight inevitably claims a victim. The dead man is Tybalt, Juliet's cousin.

Watch and listen -- Gounod: Ah! Ah! Voici nos, gens! (Roméo et Juliette)
(DVD1 title 2 chapter 26, 90:34-92:14)
© 2011 Bel Air Media -- NHK -- AMP -- Demetrius -- Fondazione Arena di Verona :

This means exile for Romeo, and marriage for Juliet with Paris. Again Friar Laurence thinks he has a remedy. Juliet will take a sleeping-draft and be buried as if dead.

Romeo returns and enters the tomb, imagining she has finally left him. His inevitable suicide is cue for a last love-duet as Juliet awakes.

Watch and listen -- Gounod: Console-toi, pauvre âme (Roméo et Juliette)
(DVD2 title 2 chapter 14, 53:41-55:00)
© 2011 Bel Air Media -- NHK -- AMP -- Demetrius -- Fondazione Arena di Verona :

If the ancient Romans had being sufficiently musical, they would undoubtedly have chosen Aida as the most suitable work for the Verona amphitheatre. In the case of this DVD, television is both help and hindrance. It can give an awesome impression of the gigantic space this building encloses and make remote midgets into recognisable human beings. But scenic effects designed to be seen far off appear more clumsy close to. Musically the performance deserves all the applause it gets.

Copyright © 7 October 2012 Robert Anderson,
Norfolk UK







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