Before I jump into learning the music, I find that it’s really helpful and important to do some solid listening of the entire work before I even crack open the score. Both active and passive listening helps me get a good feel for the work as a whole, the trajectory of the story and music, and the essence of the piece. Luckily I am able to listen to music while I work, so over the course of a few days, I can listen to the whole opera from start to finish, in small and digestible chunks.
My next step is to listen to the entire opera again, but following along with the libretto. This is a really great way to follow the story super clearly and discover connections between the music and the meaning of the text and story. Listening with only libretto and not the actual score creates a really cool experience too. At least as a singer, you can purely listen to the music and text without the stress of literally looking at all the music you have to learn. For me, listening with the libretto almost feels like experiencing the opera as a movie. Might sound weird? But it’s pretty awesome.
This next step is fun because it’s colorful! Plus, with a score of 265 pages, it feels like a fun challenge to go through the entire thing and highlight every moment that Juliette sings. It also feels super productive, even though it’s a pretty simple and stress-free task. While highlighting, I got a better idea of the sheer amount that Juliette sings, with which characters, and what type of set pieces (aria, duet, etc.) there are. Gounod uses a lot of tempo, meter, and key changes which I also highlight in a different color which is super helpful when sitting down to learn the music.
The next step is to write in translations. For me, it’s important to have all my sources right on hand to make the best informed decision about how exactly I want to interpret the text. The sources I use are: preferred libretto, a French to English dictionary, and Google translate.
It seems like it would be easy to know everything that is happening in all of the scenes of an opera if you’re performing it. However because Roméo et Juliette is in French it can be hard to fully grasp the details of the dialogue, nuance, tone and emotion of all the characters in scenes that don’t include your character. For this reason, I’m choosing to translate the entire work so that I am familiar with the details that are important to fully understand the piece.
This was quite the undertaking, but it was such a cool way to experience the entire work. Through this task, I was able to encounter every detailed dialogue and plot point, and how characters interacted with each other. Getting to know every scene and character through translating will help me place Juliette in context, and more importantly understand the action when Juliette isn’t present and how it may impact her.
It was quite a time-consuming task, but literally putting in all those hours made me feel really acquainted with the French and the general phrasing, structure and vocabulary of the language. Through translating the entire opera, I also absorbed the nuance of specific characters through the way their lines are set and their style of music.
Finally, after all these preparations I listen to the work again but with the prepared score! This new experience that ties the music, text, and plot very clearly together helps to solidify the story and true essence of the work.