One of Gounod’s best operas Roméo et Juliette
(1867) has become one of the most successful adaptations of the Shakespeare tragedy. The opera focuses on “drama through lyricism” (Mikhail Muginstein): the feud of the families becomes a background for the love story. The drama is based on the monologues and four brilliants duets of the main characters which reveal the story of their relations. It was Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
, following his Faust
, that established a new genre in the late 19th-century opera, called drame lyrique.
In Russia this opera has been rarely staged. One of the milestones was the production of the Bolshoi Theatre in 1941 and its revival in 1945, both times starring the best Russian Romeo, Sergey Lemeshev.
The Novaya Opera’s present production, the first in 40 years, has been directed by French director and designer Arnaud Bernard. He is known to the Russian audience for his productions in the Mikhailovsky Theatre (Halevy’s La Juive in 2010 and Puccini’s La bohème in 2011, nominated for the Golden Mask Russian Theatrical Award). The Music Director is the Novaya Opera’s guest conductor Fabio Mastrangelo. On January 17, 2014 he conducted the concert performance of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as part of the Epiphany Festival at Novaya Opera.
Arnaud Bernard, director and designer of the production:
" Roméo et Juliette is an opera that I know well and love a lot. For years it has been one of the compositions most congenial to me. It is very powerful dramatically. Gounod’s libretto compares favourably with Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi which is based on the same plot. Gounod is very faithful to Shakespeare’s text; his adaptation of the play is very precise. The libretto and Gounod’ music have the cruelty that you can feel in the Shakespeare play. I aim my production to restore and reveal this cruelty.
In all my productions I try to establish connection with the music to make the show look natural and spontaneous. I am first of all a musician and secondly a director. And I think what I do is equally related to both music and theatre. Everything comes from music.
The Novaya Opera’s production is my third staging of Roméo et Juliette. Its peculiarity lies in its aesthetics. I want to make the audience understand Roméo and Juliette’s incredible love, which is impossible amidst hatred and cruelty. In 1999, my Chicago production had so many details in the sets that the spectators became lost. My second production was more laconic and focused on the actors. I intend to do the same here but with more vibrant and poetic sets.”
Fabio Mastrangelo, conductor of the production:
“All music has its difficulties. There is technically difficult music (Rossini for example). Or there are very complicated singers’ parts (for example, tenor roles like Herman or Othello) which require a wide vocal range and dynamic balance. The difficulties in Gounod’s opera are completely different. I believe that the singers performing Roméo and Juliette have to be almost virtually in love with each other. Otherwise the story will not be credible. Another difficulty is that in the story Juliet is only 14. And the feelings of a teenager are hundred times more intense than those of an adult. That is why the soloist singing this part has to combine her vocal skills with a special psychological approach to the role to portray the tender age. And the task of the director and me is to help our singers. I will do my best to help them communicate this beautiful story to the audience.”