In my last post, I mentioned that Juliette’s music evolves from a pleasant melodic and lyrical line to a more dramatic, declamatory, and chromatic style by the end of the opera. In this post I would like to discuss some musical excerpts that show this transformation. Understanding the path and progression that not only the character takes, but also her music will inform my characterization. The nuances of the music should inform the nuances of Juliette herself.
Originally, I wanted to cover the evolution of Juliette’s music through the entire opera in one post. However, it quickly became clear that there is just too much material to cover it all at once, and I can be more detailed in my analysis if I break the transformation down per act. Today I’ll be discussing Act I.
No. 1: Juliette is seemingly happy and carefree at the masked ball. Her music is light, very melodic and pleasant. This is the first time that Juliette sings; she is welcoming all the guests, praising the beautiful music and having a great time. She dreams of the “enchanted world before her eyes” and appears to be full of joy and hope for a bright future. Her music is in a coloratura style with rapid scalar lines, a wide range, and arpeggiated melodies. The tessitura is quite high and the rhythms are quite lively, bouncy, and energetic. There is some chromaticism but it is still very tuneful. Juliette’s aria, “Je veux vivre” (No.3), has many of these same musical characteristics and she is full of life and joy in that moment as well.
Act I, Duet “Ange adorable”: Almost immediately after Juliette sings about not wanting to be troubled with love or marriage, Romeo approaches her sweetly and surprises her with his affection. He is quite clever and flirtatious, and Juliette seems caught off guard by his charms. Gounod achieves a playful interaction between Romeo and Juliet through his use of form. Romeo begins with 23 bars and then Juliette responds in 23 bars, repeating Romeo’s melody almost exactly. I think this shows how Juliette isn’t sure what to do when Romeo approaches her, but she literally becomes enchanted by his melodies. Romeo says one endearing thing after another and Juliette tries to refuse him. By the end of the duet, Romeo has succeeded and swept Juliette off her feet, almost literally shown by their closely entwined harmonic thirds.
By Act I Finale, there is a sudden chain of events and sudden change in Juliette. Romeo learns that Juliette is a Capulet. Tybalt recognizes Romeo’s voice and reveals his identity. Juliette’s heart sinks and her world stops. She is frozen by the realization that her only love is her enemy and fears that “Hatred is the cradle of this fatal love!”
It’s amazing how quickly Gounod shifts Juliette’s music to symbolize her state of shock and fear. Her music is slow and contains many repeated pitches over a haunting vamp in the orchestra. The once joyful and playful essence of Juliette is completely lost. Her final line of Act I descends chromatically into the depths of her fear: “It is over! If I cannot be his, may the coffin be my wedding bed!”