“Romeo and Juliet,” an opera in five acts with words by Barbier and Carré after Shakespeare’s drama and music by Charles Gounod, had its first presentation at the Théâtre Lyrique, Paris, April 27, 1867.
The Duke of Verona. Capulet. Tybalt, nephew to Capulet. Gregory. Paris. Romeo. Mercutio, Benvolio, friends of Romeo. Stephano, page to Romeo. Friar Lawrence. Gertrude, the nurse. Juliet, daughter of Capulet. Ladies and nobles of Verona, citizens, soldiers, monks, pages, and retainers of both houses.
The opera opens in the palace of the Capulets, where a masked ball is in progress. Romeo, of the rival house of Montague, comes disguised as a pilgrim and he and Juliet at once fall in love. There are two unfortunate circumstances to be considered in connection with this occurrence, for they are scions of houses between which a deadly enmity exists and Juliet is already betrothed to Paris. Juliet’s kinsman, Tybalt, recognizes Romeo and reveals his identity, vowing vengeance on the youth for his intrusion but Capulet himself, in the true spirit of hospitality lets the incident pass and the act ends, as it began, with dance and song.
The famous balcony scene which follows, is taken almost intact from Shakespeare and forms the second act. In the third act, the clandestine marriage of Romeo and Juliet is consummated in the Friar’s cell, the holy man hoping that by the union the feud may be terminated. Romeo’s page, Stephano, who does not figure in the Shakesperian text, is discovered searching for his missing master near Capulet’s door in Verona. A boyish bit of arrogance on his part provokes the servants of the house to draw upon him and shortly thereafter Romeo and his friend Mercutio meet Tybalt and the Capulets in the street and the quarrel becomes general. The outcome is that Mercutio is slain and Romeo avenges him by killing Tybalt.
In the fourth act, Romeo visits Juliet in her chamber and departs just as her father comes in to remind her of her approaching marriage to Paris. While the guests assemble for the nuptials, Juliet seeks the Friar again for advice. He gives her a sleeping-potion which will render her unconscious and will lead her friends to think she is dead. She is to be carried in this condition to the tomb of the Capulets and is to be waked when Romeo comes to take her away. Thence in the fifth act comes Romeo, thinking his sweetheart dead. He has taken poison in his grief and Juliet is revived only to find him beyond mortal aid. She stabs herself and dies in his arms.
” Romeo and Juliet ” is regarded as inferior in musical interest and merit to ” Faust ” but none the less contains several numbers of undeniable beauty. Acknowledged to be of worth are Mercutio’s ” Queen Mab ” aria ; Juliet’s waltz song at the ball ; the duet of Romeo and Juliet, ” I pray thee go not yet ; ” the amorous music of the balcony scene, (reminiscent of the garden scene in Faust), a notable pas-sage being Juliet’s song beginning ” Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face; ” the solo of Friar Lawrence, ” Oh! Smile, fair heaven, upon this marriage; ” the page’s song in the third act; the duet of parting in the fourth act, ” No, love, it is not day; ” the Friar’s solo as he gives the potion to Juliet and the orchestral prelude to the tomb scene.