Opera Profile: Gounod’s Extended Love Duet, ‘Roméo et Juliette’

By David Salazar

There aren’t any settings of Shakespeare’s famous “Romeo and Juliet” in the opera world more popular than Gounod’s.

Part of the reason for that is the long-running success of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” which premiered on April 27, 2018.

The opera in five acts is a fixture in the operatic canon, famous for its extensive love duets for both lead artists. Some have dubbed the opera an extended love duet. In sum, there are four love duets, though the two leads get two famed arias.

Short Plot Summary

Roméo and Juliette meet at a masked ball at the home of the Capulets. Her cousin Tybalt suspects that Roméo, a hated Montague, is behind the mask and plans revenge.

In the garden that night, Roméo and Juliette meet to exchange vows. They get married by Friar Laurent in hopes of reconciling the two houses of Verona.

A skirmish in the streets leads to the death of Roméo’s best friend Mercutio. Roméo, enraged, kills Tybalt and is subsequently banished from Verona.

Juliette, finding herself forced into marriage to Paris, asks the friar for help. He gives her a potion that will put her to sleep but also make her appear dead. She is to be laid in the family tomb where Roméo will find her. The two will then run off together.

However, Roméo is unaware of the plan as he has not been informed. Thinking Juliette dead, he enters the tomb and takes poison. Just then, Juliette awakens to find him dying. She stabs herself to die alongside her beloved.

Famous Musical Numbers

The soprano’s “Je veux vivre” is a fixture for any diva in the concert hall while the tenor’s “Ah! leve-toi soleil,” while not excerpted outside the context of the work, is equally renowned.

But it’s the duets that really resonates, particularly the one in Act four, with its cello accompaniment at the start and the woodwind “nightingale” at the climax.

Watch and Listen

Here is one of the iconic recordings of the opera featuring the seemingly-unlikely vocal pairing of Franco Corelli and Mirella Freni. You will soon realize why this recording is so popular and beloved.


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