COMPOSERS: Charles Gounod
ALBUM TITLE: Gounod
WORKS: Romeo et Juliette
PERFORMER: Roberto Alagna, Angela Gheorghiu, Vratislav Kriz, Ales Hendrych, Frantisek Zahradnicek, Zdenek Harvanek; Kühn’s Mixed Choir, Prague; Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra/Anton Guadagno; dir. Barbara Willis Sweete (Prague, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: Arthaus DVD: 109261; Blu-ray: 109262
This version of Gounod’s ‘star-crossed’ lovers was recorded in 2002 when Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna were the opera world’s favourite young lovers. Much emotional water has flowed under the bridge since, which gives this recording some poignancy. But not for very long in this curious version of Gounod’s opera, recorded in Prague’s Rudolfinum Hall and mimed on location at the Royal Castle of Zvikov.
The director Barbara Willis Sweete, a Met DVD veteran, has pruned down Gounod’s original opera to little more than the story of the lovers and seems as much concerned to record a travelogue around an exquisite building as to put a drama on the screen. Her camera whirls around like a dervish, up stairs and downstairs, into cellars and through the woods lest we miss a single corner of her location. And singers who were perhaps not thought handsome enough for the camera are replaced by actors. The lovers play the lovers as themselves as does Tito Beltran’s Tybalt, though the only credit he gets is on screen. As for the Montagues and the Capulets ‘played’ by members of the Czech National Opera but sung by a Prague Chamber Chorus, they are as grey as their grey robes.
The sequence of duets that distinguish Gounod’s score are handsomely done, with Alagna in particularly good voice. But the tears rarely flow even when the lovers are dying. Anton Guadagno keeps the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra in good order. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a kind of vanity recording.