Tragic opera in three acts
Music Director: Fabio Mastrangelo
Director, Set, Costume and Lighting Designer: Arnaud Bernard
Choirmaster: Yulia Senyukova
Running time: 3 hours 30 minutes with two intermissions
Premiered on 29 November 2014
Recommended for 12+
Sung in French with Russian surtitles
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.
This Romeo et Juliette is a potion for those who don’t like the “modern” way of directing, but who also are not fond of routine. This performance promises to be a bestseller with the Moscow public.
December 1, 2014
While Romeo and Juliette love each other in a very opera-like way <...>, their feuding relatives are engaged in a movie-like battle; they plunge rapiers, ingeniously managing not to make a pig-pile, passionately yell and freeze in impressive poses. Pavel Janchik, a renowned Hollywood master,directed fencing scenes and trained fencers. To make space for his creative work a big fighting scene was added before the overture, and this scene gives a flying start to the performance.
December 1, 2014
… a performance may look a very common costume solution and at the same time be an absolutely modern piece. Neither place, nor time, nor the meaning of the characters’ behavior are changed, yet a light note of conceptualism is there.
In the Moscow context, Bernard’s mix of conservatism and conceptualism looks rather impressive and with its lean style works like morning exercises, like training for quality.
December 3, 2014
In this production Bernard appears also as an artist and as a lighting designer; and this is his good point. A majestic, soaring construction, which looks like a palazzo façade, a tower’s walls and a crypt’s arcs, is well-thought-out and enlivened with details. At the right time light flashes on the hero and at the right moment shade covers him. And as a stage director, Arnaud Bernard had enough taste and mastery to create lyrical scenes
December 5, 2014
The third act fascinates with its beauty, resembling pictures by Breughel, Van Dyck and Rembrandt, who were masters of checkered light and shade, capable of depicting the entire spectrum of human emotions in their paintings. After the wedding and announcement of the wedding with Paris, a giant cross appears on the stage, showing the nothingness of people, and its fall at the moment of Juliette’s fake death is a symbol of predeterminacy. From the sky falls something white — either petals of wedding roses, or snow covering the past, or torn pages from books or scores which tell the love story that enthralls the whole world.
December 5, 2014
After a long while Moscow has an opera production where love is sung and performed so sincerely.
Romeo et Juliette is not a short story — it lasts three hours and a half with two intermissions! It seems to be a challenge to the modern audience preferring short forms. Nope! Not a single spectator left the theatre without seeing through the saddest opera finale.
December 5, 2014
The wedding scene is very impressive both visually and emotionally. Gentle rose petals fall down from the sky, decorating the land where Paris’s young bride will walk very soon. But the wedding is not destined to occur — Juliette falls down in a dead faint and her father desperately overturns the heavy cross, raising a white cloud of the petals, as if the final breath, the final farewell.
December 8, 2014
We can congratulate the Novaya Opera on an interesting production. <…> With a high level of performing mastery which the Novaya Opera can provide, this production can be called one of the theatre’s best works and will be a success with the public for years and years.
December 8, 2014
The decent production of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette staged by Arnaud Bernard offers a number of excellent singing works.
The New Izvestiya
August 19, 2015