I wanted to discuss aspects of the review of the London premiere that don’t apply directly to my portrayal of Juliette. There were a lot of interesting compliments, criticisms, and comparisons that I think are important to discuss. It gives a great insight as to the opera audiences and culture of the mid-late nineteenth century.
One of the first aspects that the author congratulated was how the librettists Carré and Barbier did a great job in adapting the “rich mine of poetry and romance” of the Shakespeare play into the libretto. Also present in Gounod’s opera, Faust (also by Carré and Barbier), “the simplicity of plot, the striking individuality of chief personages, and the fact each successive scene involved some incident which, while helping the story forwards, kept up its interest to the end.”
I love this quote because it really is the perfect way to explain this story. Almost everyone knows the plot and it’s pretty straightforward, but the characters are so interesting and the drama of each scene flows seamlessly and effortlessly, which keeps the audience engaged. Also, Barbier and Carré toned down the other characters in order to make Roméo and Juliette stand out. They elevated the lovers to a more exclusive status by having one of them in almost every scene, and included three extended scenes for the two lovers.
For some reason the Prologue was omitted in the London premiere. This was super surprising to me because the librettists took it almost word for word from Shakespeare, and it sets the scene for the opera so beautifully. The author was “not quite convinced of the wisdom of this particular omission,” which I would totally have to agree with.
The author also criticizes Gounod’s “eternal and interminable accompanied recitative” at the end of Act III, and in many other moments of the opera. There is quite a bit of accompanied recitative and it borders on quite melodic (especially between Romeo and Juliette, Act II), but I really love this about Gounod’s writing. I think it creates a blur between the romantic moments and the dialogue which represents their relationship so well.
Along with the abundance of accompanied recitative, the reviewer repeatedly criticizes how repetitive and monotonous a lot of the music is, especially the tuneful exchanges between Roméo and Juliette. They state that it is “languid monotony”, yet it’s “anything but disagreeable.” It’s hard to take this reviewer seriously because they contradict themselves, but I understand. Gounod’s writing is very repetitive, but the melodies are so beautiful that it’s hard to be mad at hearing them over and over again.
The author is “unable to congratulate Gounod” for Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” aria in Act I. They called it “common place… and vague” and reported that “this air delays the progress to the action to no purpose.” This is interesting because earlier they praised the librettists for the quality of the writing and progress of the drama. I also found this interesting because the Queen Mab aria is one of the more catchy and lighter numbers in the whole opera. I do have to agree that it feels somewhat out of place, but I think it is appropriate to provide some relief from the intense drama.
In the same vein, they “do not greatly care for” Stephano’s aria in Act III. This aria is similar to Queen Mab as it sits as it’s own number randomly in the opera, but it does rouse the Capulets and stir up the dramatic fight scene. Of the fight scene, the author thinks it is very successful: “unflagging animation, a power of continuity, and a mystery of form not always exhibited by Gounod in his operatic music.”
The author thought that the entire marriage scene in Act III was dull and could’ve been omitted and left to the imagination of the audience, just as Shakespeare did.
Comparisons (to Wagner)
The author compares Gounod to Wagner a lot in this review. This fascinated me because in all my time studying opera and opera history, I’ve never discussed or thought about Gounod and Wagner in direct comparison. Maybe nowadays we don’t compare the two, but it is intriguing that audiences of the nineteenth century were. The author states Gounod has in Roméo and Juliette “advanced further than ever,” yet will not quite “arrive at the goal contemplated by Herr Wagner.”
Of both Acts II and IV, the author describes how the piece is “strung together somewhat in the Wagner style, in all sorts of keys, and with no definite form, but (differing here from Wagner) highly dramatic, melodious, and expressive.”
Top focus/goal: Discuss compliments, criticisms, and comparisons (to Wagner)
Further topics to explore: Queen Mab aria, Stephano’s aria
Characterization of Juliette: How can the Act III marriage scene be made more interesting? Is it supposed to be interesting? The couple sings only four phrases in octaves that are in response to the Friar’s declarations, which is quite contrasting from the rest of the opera’s melodic, repetitive, and continuous flowing phrases.