Gounod: Roméo et Juliette

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Roméo et Juliette
PERFORMER: Roberto Alagna, Angela Gheorghiu; Czech Philharmonic CO/Anton Guadagno; dir. Barbara Willis Sweete (studio film, 2002)
Do not be fooled! It may say Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette on the box, but it’s a shadow of what Parisians took to their hearts at the Théâtre Lyrique in April 1867. Gone is Mercutio’s air ‘Mab, la reine des mensonges’, the nurse Gertrude and Stéphano the page have been airbrushed out of the story, and Frère Laurent is no more than a solemn cipher. We never know that Romeo is banished from Verona or that Laurence’s letter about Juliet’s faked death missed the last post.


This is a Roméo et Juliette that has lost the plot on behalf of the most celebrated Romeo and Juliet of the age, Alagna and Gheorghiu, who, it has to be admitted, are often on their best singing-behaviour, making an elegant meal of Gounod’s unprecedented four duets for tenor and soprano. Both are sweetly touching as their whirlwind courtship begins with ‘Ange adorable’. And it is literally a whirlwind as the star-crossed lovers race out of the great hall of the Capulet castle along the ramparts and then out into the gardens.


This being an opera movie, standing still is never enough, so the camera swoops around Zvíkov Castle like a bird. Indeed, after an hour of Barbara Willis Sweete’s film it’s the medieval fortress that deserves top billing. And sitting alongside a fairy-tale lake deep in the Czech countryside it is as pretty as a picture postcard. The problem is that Roméo et Juliette is an urban tale about two feuding families in a Renaissance city, not a bucolic love affair that ends badly. Christopher Cook