Telling the Story

Prologue: The chorus sets the scene of two rival families and their endless wars. Juliette appears and Romeo loves her – and these unfortunate lovers pay for their families’ age-old hatred. 

Act One: Capulet’s ball

  • Everyone attending the masked ball is having a great drunken time with each other. Tybalt hopes to impress Count Paris with the extravagant party and more importantly with the beautiful Juliet. 
  • Capulet welcomes everyone and has a weepy moment introducing his only child and daughter, Juliet. 
  • Juliet welcomes everyone and praises the beautiful music! 
  • Mercutio teases Romeo and tells the story of Queen Mab. 
  • Romeo spots Juliet and falls in love at first sight. 
  • Juliet sings of wanting to live in the dream of happiness and youth. 
  • Romeo and Juliet meet, flirt, and kiss. 
  • Tybalt recognizes Romeo by his voice. Romeo and Juliet panic in their realization. Tybalt demands that Capulet make Romeo leave, but Capulet insists that the party shall go on without ado.

Act Two: Juliet’s Balcony 

  • Romeo, alone, reflects on his newfound love. He spots Juliet through the window and revels in her beauty. 
  • Juliet wishes that their names were not Capulet and Montague so they could be together. 
  • They profess their love for each other but are interrupted.
  • They meet again at the balcony and make a plan for their secret marriage. Risking getting caught, they cannot seem to say goodbye and goodnight to each other. Finally they part.

Act Three: Friar Laurence’s cell/Street near Capulet’s

  • Romeo goes to Friar Laurence professing his love for Juliet, Juliet joins them. Friar Laurence marries the two lovers.  
  • Stephano sings a song about the white turtledove. Fighting breaks out between Capulets and Montagues and Tybalt kills Mercutio. To avenge Mercutio, Romeo kills Tybalt. The Duke of Verona banishes Romeo. 

Act Four: Juliet’s room/Wedding procession

  • Juliet forgives Romeo, they spend the night together.
  • Capulet announces that Juliet will be married to Paris.
  • Upset, Juliet goes to Friar for help. She threatens to kill herself if he can’t help her.
  • He gives her a sleeping potion and explains the plan to evade the marriage to Paris.
  • She pledges her love and devotion to Romeo and drinks the potion.
  • Wedding procession: everyone is celebrating, except Juliet
    • Juliet collapses and everyone thinks she is dead 

Act Five: Capulet family tomb

  • Friar Laurence finds out that the letter explaining the plan never got to Romeo.
  • Romeo finds Juliet in the tomb and thinks that she is actually dead.
  • He pledges his love to her and drinks the poison.
  • Juliet awakes.
  • They are happy and together, then she realizes what he has done. 
  • No poison left, Juliet stabs herself.
  • Both lovers die.

Top goal/focus: Lay out the story/musical numbers in my own words. 

Challenges: Coming up with a simple, but clear and detailed description of each scene/number.  

Characterization of Juliette: The Juliette of Act I seems like a completely different person than the rest of the opera. She is very light, happy, playful and her music reflects this.  Act Two: she is very pensive, thoughtful, and clever in coming up with a plan. Act Three: Although there should be much celebration, the secret wedding is somewhat somber. Act Four: more passionate and intimate, maturity develops through love and marriage. Juliet’s passion intensifies when she threatens to kill herself and takes the potion. Act Five: Juliet displays ultimate passion, depth of conviction and strength through love – which leads her to her suicide. 

Ultimately Juliet transforms from life to death. The entire story occurs over the span of about three days. This transformation is intensified by the speed at which everything happens. Gounod shows this transformation through the way that Juliet’s music and style changes and develops throughout the opera.

Further topics to explore: 

  • Compare with Shakespeare — marriage scene, last Act/scene
  • Concept of time – exact times for different scenes, day vs. night, light vs. dark
  • How exactly can I portray this accelerated transformation? Does this love/death story play differently than others because of the short time span?
    • Are there specific moments where Juliet changes? 

Leave a Comment