If you listened to Amped Up Episode 4, you already know the wisdom of Bernard Uzan. He is one of the most thoughtful directors working in opera today. In this episode we talk about the challenges in creating Gounod’s epic operatic version of Romeo and Juliet.
The first characteristic that comes to nearly everyone’s mind when you mention those names, together or separate, after ‘love’ (let’s hope), is ‘youth’. The mere mention of their names comes with an iconic image of youth, innocence and love. One major challenge with the opera, which Bernard addresses, is the fact that the music for the two lovers is far beyond the years of young teenagers, and the vocal requirements of the roles preclude casting teenagers to sing it.
In this episode we bring up an issue that is part of the search for identity for American opera right now. Pop culture entertainment- Hollywood and Broadway- would never hire, say, George Clooney or Julianne Moore for those roles, now, because they’re ‘too old’ by pop culture standards, regardless of their acclaimed acting skills. Opera competes for entertainment dollars with both of those mediums. Does that mean opera should adopt the same hiring practices?
A recent round of social media comments criticized an opera company for producing a casting ad asking for ‘young, attractive singers’. There were many singers who openly challenged, saying opera should resist the path of pop culture and feature only the best musical artist regardless of ‘attractiveness’. Bernard and I discuss this conflict in this episode of Amped Up. I’d be curious to know what your thoughts are on the topic. You can comment below!
In regards to making this music come alive, the first time I worked on this opera I was a chorus master at Utah Opera in the late 90’s; quite an accomplishment for a 16 year old… (just kidding). I learned to love this opera through it’s rich and rewarding music for Chorus. Rich because it offers a lot of musical diversity, and rewarding because you can wail in some very dramatic moments; it requires sophisticated interpretation- or at least offers it; and because the way Gounod wrote the chorus part, it feels great to sing with other good musicians.
There is a very unique musical moment within in the first few minutes of the opera, after a riveting overture. The chorus, singing a’cappella, narrates the background of the two feuding families, and foreshadow’s how the love of Romeo and Juliet will impact the family. This music is a chorister’s dream. It is full of colorful words set to meaningful music that provides an opportunity for the chorus to dramatize and give context. It avails the opportunity to prove the power of the human singing voice.
I’m going to offer an exact translation, and a link to the music, so you can follow along and see what I mean. If done well, the audience is left transfixed.
FROM YOUTUBE: https://youtu.be/tWZbFuiwzoo
ROMEO ET JULIETTE, PROLOGUE:
Vérone vit jadis deux familes rivales, Verona saw of old two rival families,
Les Montaigues, les Capulets, The Montagues, the Capulets,
De leurs guerres sans fin From their wars without end
à toutes deux fatales, To both of them fatal,
Ensanglanter le seuil de ses palais. Bleeding on the thresholds of their palaces.
Comme un rayon vermeil brille Like a colorful ray shines
En un ciel d'orage, Juliette parut In a stormy sky, Julliette appeared
Et Roméo l'aima! And Roméo loved her!
Et tout deux, oubliant le nom And both of them, forgetting the name
Qui les outrage, Which outrages them,
Un même amour les enflama! A self-same love enflamed them!
Sort funeste! Aveugles colères! Disastrous fate! Blind rages!
Ces malheureux amants These unhappy lovers
Payèrent de leurs jours Paid with their lives (days)
La fin des haines séculaires For the end of the age-old hatreds
Qui virent naître leurs amours! Which sawborn their loves!
The fated theme of the two is silhouetted in a cello quartet immediately following this. The translation for this music is ‘pass out the hankies’. Another magical moment in an opera full of life. Tragic life, but life nonetheless. WE’LL SAVE THAT MOMENT FOR ANOTHER EPISODE!
All of the ROMEO tracks for this podcast come from my current favorite recording of the opera featuring Michelle Plasson on the podium, and Roberto Algana and Angela Gheorghiu in the leading roles. I’ve seen the two live, and their chemistry is palpable. I also think the playing of the Toulouse Orchestra is electrifying.
I couldn’t find a link for it on iTunes. But it is available on Amazon through THIS LINK.
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