Juliette’s Musical Transformation: Act IV

There is so much that happens in Act IV and Juliette is in every scene. In this act we start to see her take the lead and control the trajectory of her and Romeo’s life together. The first scene of this act is a lovely duet between Romeo and Juliette on their wedding night. There is a lot of back and forth between the two lovers, but Juliette has a newfound power and control over the situation. In the next scene, Capulet informs her that she must marry Paris, but she stands firm in her love for Romeo. She immediately goes to Friar Laurence and frantically begs him to help her. Even though she is scared, she musters up the courage to drink the potion. The act ends with Juliette collapsing during the wedding procession and everyone believes her to be dead. At this moment Juliette finally has everyone’s attention and she is in control of the  situation.

No. 14 Recit with Romeo/Duet 

There is a very short recitative where Juliette forgives Romeo and tells him she loves him. Juliette’s music goes back and forth between consonant intervals when she tells Romeo “I forgive you… I love you” and more chromatic and rhythmically-driven lines when she mentions Tybalt. I love how short the recit is before this duet because it shows how eager the newlyweds are to give each other affection and celebrate their marriage. “Nuit d’hyménée” is quite a long duet and it is easiest to grasp when split into four main sections.

  1. “Nuit d’hyménée… Ton doux regard… Ô volupté de vivre…/Night of our wedding… Your sweet glances… O pleasure of living…”

In this first section, the lovers sing in their signature harmonic thirds that represent their love and sensual harmony. What is interesting in this section is that Juliette begins to lead the musical phrases with “Ton doux regard…” Usually we have seen Juliette echo Romeo and follow in his lead musically and literally, but now Romeo is the one that is following her. 

  1. “Romeo! Qu’as tu donc?/Romeo! What is it?” 

This section begins with a bird call and Romeo notices that it is the lark and that it is almost day. Juliette immediately reassures him that it is not that lark “Non! Ce n’est pas le jour!/No! it isn’t the morning!” but it is the nightingale, meaning it’s still night. Romeo insists it is the sun, but then Juliette pulls him back again, repeating “Non! Ce n’est pas le jour!” Finally Romeo agrees to stay even though he knows he is risking his life. In this moment Juliette has control over Romeo.

  1. “Ah! Tu dis vrai!/Ah! You were right!”

Juliette realizes it is day and tells Romeo to leave. This time Romeo is the one to resist saying “Non! Ce n’est pas le jour!” Again we hear Romeo echo and repeat the music of Juliette, instead of the other way around. 

  1. “Il faut partir, hélas!/We must part, alas!” 

The duet ends with Juliette insisting that they must part. After she states this line once, Romeo joins her in their harmonic thirds once again. Juliette again leads the way in this last section and Romeo is swept up with her. Their final goodbye “toujours a toi” is in octaves. 

Coda : “Adieu! Mon âme!/Goodbye, my soul!” (Other than the Potion aria, only time Juliette is alone.)

After Romeo leaves, Juliette sings a prayer. Her music is very simple, consonant and ends with a descending melodic line. The orchestra has this Romeo/love motivic material and the way that the voice and orchestra interact symbolize her and Romeo being completely united. Even her text is somewhat vague and hints to the fact that her soul and life are Romeo himself. 

No. 15 Quartet

A short scene where Capulet tells Juliette that they must respect the wish of dead Tybalt and she must marry Paris. In the short quartet that ends the scene, Capulet, Friar Laurence and the Nurse/Gertrude sing of respect to the dead while Juliette sings to her Romeo: “Ne crains rien, mon coeur est sans remords/Don’t be afraid, my heart is without remorse!” She doesn’t care what her father says, she is married to Romeo and she is his. The vocal setting of the quartet is very choral, with Juliette leading with an arpeggiated and melodic line while the other three voices provide harmonic support. Juliette’s rhythms also contrast the other three voices with dotted rhythms in almost every measure. This contrast between Juliette and the others show that she has a different plan in mind than the others. 

No. 16 Scene with Friar “Mon père! Tout m’accable!/My father! Everything overwhelms me!”

Juliette’s music in this scene with the Friar shows her sense of urgency, panic and demand for a plan. Her phrases are very short, quick, dissonant and disjunct. 

No. 17 Potion aria: “Dieu! quel frisson… Amour, ranime mon courage!/God! what thrill… Love, revive my courage!”

I’m not going to go into detail about this aria – (because that will be a whole other post!) This aria is so important and shows Juliette gaining some sovereignty and power over her life. This is also the only time in the opera (other than the short prayer earlier) that Juliette is alone. This is the first time that we get to see her completely on her own, unaffected by the actions and power of other people. At first, Juliette is afraid to take the sleeping potion (recit.) but her love for Romeo brings her strength and courage (aria). She once again questions what will happen and starts to panic (recit.), but ultimately her love guides her to take it (aria). This back and forth between recitative and aria style is a perfect way to show Juliette’s thought process, fear, and the power of her love for Romeo. 

No. 19 Finale 

As Juliette approaches the wedding altar, she sings “La haine est le berceau de cet amour fatal…/Hatred in the cradle of this fatal love” which is almost exactly the same musical material from the Act I finale when she first finds out it was Romeo. The entire phrase is on the same pitch and I think this shows her resignation to her fate. I think she is actually scared that she may die from the potion. As she collapses, her music ascends chromatically which creates a very unstable harmonic atmosphere and represents her fear and panic. 

In this Act, Juliette finds some sovereignty over her life, her love and her body. This is the first time that we see her take the lead instead of Romeo. She is the one to go to Friar Laurence to find help and take the situation into her own hands. The potion aria is probably the most important scene for Juliette as this is the first and only time that she is truly alone and out of reach of others’ control. In the Shakespeare play, Juliette is found in her bed and thought to be dead. Gounod created this wedding procession scene where Juliette dramatically collapses and it provides an important opportunity for Juliette to finally be the person affecting others.

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