GOUNOD: Romeo and Juliet

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Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)Romeo et JulietteCharles Gounod, one of the great nineteenth-century mastersof operatic melody, had a huge early success with Faust, based on the dramaticpoem by Goethe, and spent the rest of his career trying to match it. He cameclosest with a work based on a play by another great poet, Shakespeare. Hissetting of Romeo et Juliette was composed in 1865-67 with the help of thelibrettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, who had served him well with otheroperas including Faust. To make Shakespeare's tragedy suitable for the lyricstage, much of it had to be cut; the result was that the two star-crossedlovers loomed even larger in the opera than they had in the play. Gounod roseto the occasion with a series of marvellous duets for the tenor and soprano whotook the title r?â??les - like other operatic composers who tackled Shakespeare'stext, he could not resist having a final duet in the Tomb Scene, which meantthe story had to be adjusted. Otherwise his librettists stuck reasonablyclosely to the original. The tenor was given much superb declamatory music aswell as a magnificent aria; and the soprano was allotted one of the waltz-songswhich were de rigeur in French opera at the time. This song, the opera's onlyother hit number, unless you count the baritone's Queen Mab song, was a lateaddition; Gounod originally intended Juliette's r?â??le to be more declamatorylike that of Romeo, but found himself with a relatively light soprano, MarieMiolan-Carvalho, for the premi?â?¿re. He therefore capitulated to her request forsomething brilliant in Act I and allowed her to omit her big aria in Act IVScene 1. Since then Juliette has usually been sung by a lyric soprano and sothis aria has generally been cut, as on this recording. The first performancetook place in the The?â?ótre-Lyrique, Paris, on 27th April 1867 and within threemonths the opera had been heard in London with Patti and Mario. By the end ofthe year it had been staged in New York and other major centres. Famousexponents of Juliette have included Melba, Farrar, Heldy, Feraldy, Norena,Say?â?úo, Micheau and Freni, while Romeo has been sung by Jean de Reszke, Ansseau,d'Arkor, Crooks, Thill, Luccioni, Bjorling and Kraus.            Romeoet Juliette was not recorded during the 78rpm era, even though many of thesingers mentioned above made important individual discs, so we must rely onSaturday-matinee broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where itwas a repertoire piece for many years. If we want to hear how it was performedin the heyday of French style, there is only one choice, this broadcast fromthe l934-35 season. Change was in the air at the Metropolitan, as thelong-serving manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza was about to retire, but thestructure he had built up, with its fine chorus and orchestra and its excellentsupporting singers, was still in place. The cast of our Romeo includes onelegendary character singer, the tenor Angelo Bada, who had actually come overfrom Italy with Gatti-Casazza in 1908, and another, the bass Leon Rothier, whohad been at the Met since 1910. One of the protagonists, the illustriousbaritone Giuseppe de Luca, had adorned the Met stage since 1915 (his reward forsuch loyalty was to be disposed of on Gatti's departure, a decision whichdeeply upset him, although he returned for the 1940-41 season). The newgeneration is represented by the mezzo Gladys Swarthout, a dull singer on herstudio records but more sprightly when heard 'live'. What makes this recordingspecial, apart from the still vibrant de Luca and the sonorous Rothier, is thesinging of the tenor and soprano and the superbly stylish conducting. Granted,in an ideal world both Eide Norena and Charles Hackett would be able to'retake' a few notes (better still, they would be recorded at a slightlyyounger age) but there is enough wonderful singing here to make the pulse beatfaster. She characterizes Juliette as a real teenager: her singing is full ofwide-eyed wonder and hope until the tragic denouement. He declaims Romeo'smusic with a beauty of legato tone and an amplitude of phrasing which is rarelyheard today. Their duets are the highlights of the performance, which is as itshould be. In the pit, the masterly Louis Hasselmans knows exactly when toexert control and when to give the singers their heads. Listen to howbeautifully he and the orchestra phrase the opening bars of Act II. The bigmoments are finely handled and the final peroration, though spoilt by the usualcrass applause of the Met audience, is magnificent. An incidental pleasure isthe commentary of Milton Cross, with his inevitable mention of the afternoon'ssponsor.Louis Hasselmans, born in Paris on 15th July 1878 into aprominent musical family of Belgian extraction, made his mark as a cellist,taking a first prize at the Conservatoire in 1893. He was principal of theConcerts Lamoureux and a member of the celebrated Quatuor Capet before turningto conducting. From 1909 to 1911 he was at the Opera-Comique, and again in1919-22, in Montreal in 1911-13 and at the Chicago Civic Opera in 1918-19. Hewas a close friend and colleague of Gabriel Faure. In 1913 he conducted thefirst Paris performance of Penelope and four years later Faure dedicated hisFirst Cello Sonata to him. Hasselmans first conducted at the Met on 20thJanuary 1922 (Faust) and stayed for fifteen seasons, giving 378 performances offourteen French operas including the Met premi?â?¿res of Pelleas et Melisande,L'heure espagnole and Don Quichotte. He died at San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 27thDecember 1957.Eide Norena was born Karolina Hansen at Horten, in Norway,on 26th April 1884, and studied with Ellen Gulbranson in Oslo. Having startedas a concert singer in 1904, she made her operatic debut in Oslo in 1907. In1909 she married the actor Egel Naess Eide and began calling herself Kaja Eide.She sang mainly in Oslo and Stockholm before undergoing further studies withRaimund von zur M?â??hlen and belatedly starting an international career as EideNorena. Although her debut r?â??le at La Scala (1924), Covent Garden (1924), theParis Opera (1925) and Chicago (1926) was Gilda in Rigoletto, she became abyword for style in the Franco-Belgian repertoire - from 1928 she lived inParis and was a favourite at the Opera. She had only a few seasons at the Met.She died in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 19th November 1968. Norena made beautifulrecords of French and Italian repertoire.Gladys Swarthout was born at Deepwater, Missouri, onChristmas Day 1900 and studied in Chicago, where she made her debut at theCivic Opera in 1924. Her Met debut came on 15th November 1929 as La Cieca in amatinee of La Gioconda and in thirteen seasons she sang 22 r?â??les. Her goodfigure made her an asset in travesty r?â??les and in the 1930s she became apopular film star, renowned as one of America's best-dressed women. Her mostfamous stage r?â??le was Carmen. The last years of her career were affected byheart trouble and in 1954 she retired to Florence, where she died on 7th July1969 at her villa, La Ragnaia.America, land of baritones, has produced few tenors ofquality but Charles Hackett was undoubtedly one of them. Born in Worcester,Massachusetts, on 4th November 1889, he began as a boy alto, studied in Bostonand Florence and started his adult career as a lyric tenor, appearing in Pavia(1915) and Genoa (1916-17). In 1917-18 he was in Buenos Aires and he made hisMet debut in Il barbiere (with de Luca as Figaro) on 31st January 1919, stayinguntil 1921 and returning in 1934 for five more seasons. In between he sang atLa Scala and in Monte Carlo, Paris, London (taking part in Melba's farewellevening, as Romeo to her Juliette in the Balcony Scene) and Chicago. Duringthis time his voice gained a little in power but kept its tone. He retired in1940 and taught at the Juilliard School but died all too soon in New York onNew Year's Day 1942. He made a number of records, not all fe
Disc: 1
Romeo et Juliette
1 Prologue: Verone vit jadis deux familles rivales..
2 Act I: Introduction: L'heure s'envole...
3 Act I: Ballade de la reine Mab: Mab, la reine des
4 Act I: Recitatif et Scene: Eh bien! que l'avertiss
5 Act I: Ariette: Ah! Je veux vivre dans le reve...
6 Act I: Recitatif: Le nom de cette belle enfant?
7 Act I: Madrigal: Ange adorable...
8 Act I: Finale: Quelqu'un! C'est mon cousin Tybalt
9 Act II: Entr'acte et chceur: O nuit! sous tes aile
10 Act II: Cavatine: L'amour, l'amour!...
11 Act II: Scene et chceurs: Helas! moi, le hair!
12 Act II: Duo: O nuit divine! je t'implore!
13 Act III: Scene 1: Entr'acte et scene: Mon pere! Di
14 Act III: Scene 1: Trio et quatuor: Dieu qui fis l'
Disc: 2
Romeo et Juliette
1 Act III: Scene 2: Announcements
2 Act III: Scene 2: Chanson: Depuis hier je cherche
3 Act III: Scene 2: Finale: Ah! Ah! voici nos gens!
4 Act IV: Scene 1: Duo: Va! Je t'ai pardonne...
5 Act IV: Scene 1: Quatuor: Juliette! - Ah! le ciel
6 Act IV: Scene 1: Scene: Mon pere! Tout m'accable!
7 Act IV: Scene 2: Announcements
8 Act IV: Scene 2: Le sommeil de Juliette
9 Act IV: Scene 2: Scene et Duo: C'est la! Salut! To
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