"Great Performances" Romeo and Juliet (TV Episode 2002) Poster

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Both opera buffs and newcomers who take the leap will be enchanted.
Clive-23 August 2003
Warning: Spoilers
This is perhaps the most beautiful of all opera productions on film and video so far. Wherever it was shot on location (probably Prague's environs), its settings and décor are realistic and convincing -- welcome solidity for the ephemeral romantic music. I am not a fanatic admirer of either tenor Roberto Alagna or his wife, soprano Angela Gheorghiu. They are good -- relatively even very good, compared to other singers attempting the same repertory. At best their singing is accurate and distinguished, although often generalized and not distinctive. The times I have seen them perform, she has appeared to be not very dramatically committed, while his voice has flatted out and actually cracked (it can happen to anyone -- and did occur on TV two opening nights `Live from the Met' to both Luciano Pavarotti, at the climax of `La donna è mobile' from the last act of RIGOLETTO, and to Plácido Domingo, at the finale of SAMSON ET DALILA, on the night he was being honored by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who kept calling him Placído).

Whatever might have been done to enhance the sound, opera's hottest couple are here indeed on fire. They have never sounded more passionate or in better voice, and the lip-synchronization is excellent. The color and cinematography are as gorgeous as the singing. The playing by the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra and its principal violinist, Pavel Pranil, is lush and affecting. The conductor, Anton Guadagno, captures the score's lyricism and intensity, not letting the pace lag.

There are only a couple of drawbacks. The camera, unfortunately, never stops moving -- zooming in and out and circling the singers -- so we do not get a chance to study what hope or pain might be behind the eyes, what emotions might reside behind the pretty faces, even during their most impassioned duets and solo arias. The film's other weakness can't be helped. Charles Gounod, for all his tunefulness, was not a great composer. Even his exceedingly successful FAUST, with its popular arias and unforgettable, uplifting finale, contains only one moment of inspiration, during the Act III Garden Scene.

But if Gounod was his generation's Andrew Lloyd Webber, ironically we have here one of the best examples of opera on film. Unlike Zeffirelli's, Ponnelle's, or Karajan's productions, neither the director nor the conductor gets in the way, distorting the story or music to make it her or his own.

The opera has been severely shortened, which is fine. What's here is all you need or would want to sit through for a canned encounter. The major arias are in tact, the libretto has not been compromised. ***What follows may by a spoiler to Verdi's OTELLO and 1930's MOBY DICK*** Compare, for instance, Zeffirelli's movie of Verdi's OTELLO. In the last act he not only omits one of the soprano's two arias, he has the Moor kill Iago with a harpoon! Shades of Warner Bros.' 1930 MOBY DICK, in which John Barrymore as Ahab does acrobatic stunts atop the ship's mast to impress his girl friend, Joan Bennett, and all ends happily after he harpoons the Great White Whale and the crew sings while cooking and eating its blubber before Ahab returns to the girl and the cottage with the white picket fence he'll settle down in!

The current celebrated couple has an equally excellent 1998 performance of this opera on EMI CDs. Michel Plasson conducts the Toulouse Capitole Orchestre in that complete version, including the ballet music, which lasts exactly 3 hours. But my favorite is a live one on Feb 1, 1947, from the Met, with Jussi Björling and Bidu Sayao ravishing the airwaves to Emil Cooper's conducting. That I got on LPs via a donation to the Met and on Myto CDs via a trip to Europe (in the U.S. the Met currently prevents commercial reproduction of their broadcasts). I also like Alain Vanzo and Andrée Esposito in a 1976 performance at Nice, conducted by Antonio de Almeida, which was once available on stereo LPs on the private BJR label. In 1978 Plácido Domingo and Renato Scotto, at the height of their powers, recorded 15 1/2 minutes of Act 4 for their Columbia duets album (which also includes a terrific, refulgent 9 1/2 minutes from Act 4, scene 3 of Mascagni's I RANTZAU, which I don't believe has ever been transferred to CD). Most interesting is the historic 1912 premiere recording (the opera was written in 1867) that Pathé made on 53 sides with François Ruhlmann conducting an amazing cast: Yvonne Gall, Agustarello Affre, Marcel Journet, Alexis Boyer, Hypolite Belhomme. Ward Marston mastered the disc transfers for VAI CDs in 1994.
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Outstanding musical values and leads, good locations, drab costumes, distracting camera work, wasted support cast-check...
TheLittleSongbird30 May 2012
I really wanted to like this film of Romeo Et Juliette. I love the opera and the story, and I do like Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu. But I was bitterly disappointed.

Romeo Et Juliette(2002) wasn't all bad though. The orchestral playing is always beautiful and sensitive, and the conducting is both commanding and nuanced, never allowing the piece to drag. They alone do justice to Gounod's wonderful music. The locations are striking and authentic, with lovely use of colour. But it's the two leads that really impressed. Roberto Alagna is youthful, ardent yet also intense and romantic, with ringing tone. Angela Gheorghiu gives one of her more involved performances dramatically, giving Juliette a certain delicacy and poignancy, as well as showing a flexibility needed I feel for the role.

However, the camera work is too much and very distracting. It just keeps moving, that way we cannot tell properly what the characters are properly feeling and we can't empathise with them as much. The costumes on the whole are rather drab, all browns and greys, especially in the chorus who manage to act as gloomy as they are attired. I can understand why they needed to cut things out, seeing as the opera is three hours, but truncating it to 73 minutes is too much, consequently the drama is diluted and the film feels rushed. Not to mention most of the supporting cast are reduced to walk-ons. This is especially true of Frere Laurent who only sings like a few bars(and pretty badly). The fight between Mercutio and Tybalt is also incredibly contrived, going for very exaggerated movements.

Overall, very disappointing. The music and the two leads are outstanding, but the camera work, length and costumes bring it down. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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