On 6 March I saw Romeo et Juliette by Gounod at ROH starring the husband-and-wife team Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu as the ill–fated lovers, the opera is base on Shakespeare’s play. The conductor was Charles Mackerras. The children were from the Royal Ballet School, White Lodge, Richmond Park, Surrey. Gillian Knight (a veteran of Gilbert & Sullivan operas) was Juliettes’s nurse. Once again Alastair Miles had a role – as Frere Laurent (he was cast as Desdemona’s father in Othello).

There have been other versions of Romeo & Juliet in music – one by Bellini, a ‘Dramatic Symphony’ by Berlioz and a Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky. The opera features the bloody rivalry between the houses of Montagu and Capulet and the tragic consequences.

Act I sees Romeo and Juliet fall in love after Romeo notices her at a masked ball to celebrate her birthday. He pours out his love for her and she rapturously responds (Ange adorable). They are interrupted by the return of Tybalt (Capulet’s nephew) who has earlier sung the praises of Juliet whom Paris is to marry.

Act II. The romantic meeting of Romeo & Juliet at night with famous balcony scene when Juliet comes out onto the balcony to confess her love for him. He has been hiding but on hearing this he appears and the couple declare their mutual love with a passionate exchange (O nuit divine). When Juliet’s nurse Gertrude calls her, the couple tries to prolong their meeting (Ah! Ne fuis pas encore! ).

Act III, Scene 1: Frere Laurent’s cell. Romeo rushes in and tells F. Laurent of his love for Juliet Capulet. She follows and asks Laurent to marry them. Hoping this love might bring an end to the hatred between the two families he agrees. Gertrude joins them and shares their joy.

Scene 2: a scene in front of the Capulets’ residence. Fighting between the two families and Tybalt is mortally wounded. The Duke appears and banishes Romeo from Verona.

Act IV, Scene 1: Juliet’s room. Romeo has come to bid Juliet farewell. She forgives him for killing her cousin (Va! Je ta’i pardonne) and the couple reaffirm their love (Nuit d’hymenee). Romeo reluctantly leaves her. Capulet arrives to say that Tybalt’s dying wish is for Fuliet to marry Paris. Preparations are already in hand and she begs F. Laurent to help her, saying she would rather die than marry Paris. He suggests she takes a potion that will make her appear lifeless. The Capulets will then lay her in the family tomb where Romeo will know where to find her when she wakes. Juliet takes the Phil.

Scene 2: Juliet is led by her father to the marriage ceremony but as they reach the altar where Paris is waiting she falls, apparently lifeless.

Act V. The Capulets’ crypt. Juliet lies on a tomb. Rome arrives, grief–stricken to see the apparently dead Juliet. He takes possion but then she wakes. The couple embrace fervently but Romeo starts to weaken. He tells Juliet what he has done and collapses. Juliet, unable to live without him, takes out a dagger and stabs herself. Together, the couple surrender themselves to God. Ah!!!!

The critics said Gheorghiu touched too briefly on Juliet’s youthful vulnerability and – unkindly – that at their farewell tryst she looked (although her voice is thrilling) as though she has been married for years! In contrast, he still looks young and his Romeo is said to be in a class of its own. In fact another critic likened her to Macbeth (a role he suggested she tackles in later years!) with her dark and vibrant tone, Callas-like chest.

The pair have also fallen foul of the Met’s Opera Manager, had disagreements with Jonathan Miller during La Boheme, not to mention Riccardo Muti, the supreme of the world’s most illustrious opera-house, La Scala, Milan. It seems opera’s most romantic couple will have to go their separate professional ways because their voices aren’t suited to the same operas (a marriage not made in heaven!).


Verinha Ottoni.


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