Throughout the opera so far, there is a playful back and forth of flirtatious exchanges between Romeo and Juliette, always ending with the lovers singing in harmony. Act V presents the lovers in a new stage of their lives together. They are both delirious and feel some sort of effects from the potion or poison. This psychological and physical state of instability is reflected in the way that Gounod sets this scene. There is a back and forth essence to the scene, but the form is less straightforward. Romeo and Juliette almost seem to interact as one, finishing each other’s phrases melodically and textually. They also recall many musical moments from the previous acts, as if they were seeing their life together flash before their eyes.
This final duet begins with Romeo as he enters the tomb and sees Juliette. He doesn’t know that she is only sleeping and he wants to be with her in death, so he drinks a poison, “A toi, Juliette!/To you Juliette!”
As soon as Romeo drinks the poison, Juliette begins to awake and wonders “Ou suis je?/Where am I?” Romeo starts to feel the effects of the poison “O vertigo! Est-ce un reve?/O vertigo! Is this a dream?” Clearly, they both are confused and not completely coherent. This moment is interesting because Romeo and Juliette’s music almost fits together as if it is one voice or person. The three statements really seem like one phrase that is split between the two. Juliette’s phrase begins on an E flat, then Romeo takes it over beginning a half step higher (E natural) and continues the chromatic ascent.
Juliette fully wakes and sees Romeo. Romeo is surprised that she is alive! He exclaims “Juliette est vivante!/Juliette is alive!” The orchestra flies into an eighth-note triplet pattern that is the same musical material as the opening to Juliette’s first aria “Je veux vivre.”
Romeo’s statement and the recalling of the aria fully enlivens Juliette and she sings her first full phrase, “Dieu! Quelle est cette voix, dont la douceur m’enchante?/What is that voice whose sweetness enchants me?” This is interesting because she already realized it was Romeo, but now she is asking again who it is. Obviously the effects of the sleeping potion and the deep sleep haven’t fully worn off yet. Romeo says “C’est moi! C’est ton époux…. Qui ramène à ton cœur la lumière enivrante de l’amour!/It’s me! It’s your husband… who brings the intoxicating light of love back to your heart!” Juliette finally realizes it is him. The couple rejoices in the happiness that they are finally together again: “Viens! Fuyons au bout du monde!/Come! Let us flee to the ends of the earth!” In this happy and joyful moment, the couple recalls the quartet from their wedding in Act III: “Dieu de bonte!../God of goodness!”
Romeo cries out in pain and tells Juliette that her family all have hearts of stone: “Ah! Les parents…/Your kinsmen…” Juliette doesn’t understand this sudden turn. Romeo exclaims he will die and Juliette is confused but notices that he is feverish and delirious. He finally admits that he drank poison because he thought she was dead.
Juliette is upset, and Romeo tries to console her: “Console-toi pauvre ame…/Console yourself poor soul…” He recalls from the Act IV duet “Ecoute, o Juliette! L’alouette…/Listen, o Juliette! The lark…” And then instead of Juliette consoling him (as was the exchange in Act IV), he responds to himself with the “Non! Ce n’est pas le jour…”
Juliette realizes that Romeo hasn’t left her any of the poison. She takes his dagger and stabs herself “Ah! Fortune poignard! Ton secours me reste!/Oh happy dagger! Your help remains with me!” This phrase occurs on the exact music from one of Juliette’s phrases in Act II, No. 8.
Now Juliette has her moment of clarity before their death: “Va! Ce moment est doux! O joie infinie et suprême de mourir avec toi!/This is the sweet moment! O infinite and supreme joy to die with you!” This phrase is quite eerie and seems to be Juliette fully accepting her death. She asks for a kiss and tells Romeo she loves him. The lovers die in each other’s arms after their final line in octaves: “Seigneur, pardonnez-nous!/Lord, forgive us!” This final phrase is almost the exact musical material from their final wedding vow in Act III. It’s such a short and simple ending for such a tragic story. I think the simplicity and sweetness of this final phrase represents the innocence of Romeo and Juliette who were victims of their families’ hatred and fate.
In this final and tragic scene, the lovers are both confused and delirious. There is an instability in the phrase structure, larger formal structure and the interactions between the two lovers. There are traumatic moments of realization and joyous moments of pure bliss. Juliette’s music is entwined with Romeo’s and they both recall many moments from earlier in the opera. Their final phrase in octaves, harking back to their wedding vows symbolizes how they will be united forever in eternal life.