Charles Gounod is one of the great composers of French opera.
Born on June 17, 1818, in Paris, he learned the piano with his mother, a pianist, from a young age. He then entered the Paris Conservatoire and won a prize for his cantata “Fernand” in 1839. Despite attempts of becoming a priest, he resumed composition, his first opera “Sapho” premiering in 1851.
He would go on to compose 12 operas throughout his career, his final work, “Le tribute de Zamora” coming in 1881. He became a Grand Officer of the Légion d’Honneur” in 1888 and died on Oct. 17, 1893.
Gounod composed a whopping 12 operas in his career, but only two really remain – “Faust” and “Roméo et Juliette.” What is fascinating about these two works is how they take two incredible famous stories and treat them in comparatively similar and different ways. “Faust” strips away Goethe’s philosophy to bring forth a work of intense romanticism. “Roméo et Juliette,” inherently romantic on its own, essentially strips the opera bare of other characters to create what many have called an extended love duet. Both works are indelibly linked to the French romanticism and Grand Opera at large.
Watch and Listen
Here is one of the famous performances of “Faust” starring Mirella Freni, Alfredo Kraus, and Nicolai Ghiaurov.
And here are Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón in “Roméo et Juliette.”