Romeo et Juliette Film, US premiere 1 July 2002
An Opera Couple's Abridged but Ardent Romeo
Daniel Cariaga, Los Angeles Times, 6 July 2002
Whatever you want to call it--a "Romeo" quickie or "Highlights From
Gounod's 'Romeo and Juliet' "--this 90-minute precis of the four-hour,
five-act opera on the "Great Performances" series is worth watching.
It is admirable primarily because of the impassioned and controlled
singing of Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu in the title roles, the
solid leadership of veteran conductor Anton Guadagno and the atmospheric
natural scenery of the rural Czech Republic, including the 13th century
Royal Castle of Zvikov, where the performance was shot.
Running less than 75 minutes (the opera usually unfolds in more than
three hours), Gounod's irresistible score is compacted and streamlined
drastically. But the lovers' duets and some arias remain, sung ardently
and handsomely by the Sicilian-French tenor and his Romanian soprano
wife, both in fine voice, though not heard to best advantage in the
mediocre television acoustic. Still, the strong chemistry between the
couple is palpable, and their acting convincing in every way. They move
through the castle archways and balconies and across forested pathways
with dramatic compulsion. Their youth, and the heat of their emotions,
Surrounding the fated couple are serviceably credible friends and
relatives, their parts pared to minuscule size.
Director Barbara Willis Sweete moves the principals around convincingly,
but creates zombie-like movements and expressions for the regimented
chorus, who wear slick and stylized medieval costumes, from designer
Christian Gasc, that clash with the lovers' clothes and the ancient
A revved-up 'Romeo' PBS trims some 'extra' notes for a quickie opera
Jeannie Williams, USA Today, 1 July 2002
Romeo & Juliet is one of the world's beloved romances, told most
famously by Shakespeare on stage, and in opera and ballet form. Now, a
shorter version makes its debut in a movie jokingly dubbed ''Run,
Juliet, Run!'' by the filmmakers.
Opera's golden -- and married -- couple, tenor Roberto Alagna and
soprano Angela Gheorghiu, appear in a 75-minute version of
Charles-François Gounod's opera Romeo & Juliet, to air tonight on PBS'
Great Performances (check local listings). It was shot in a 13th-century
castle in the Czech Republic with plenty of outdoor space for the
lovers, in particular the athletic and lovely Gheorghiu, to romp.
She can run while trilling because they lip-sync to a new multi-track
recording. The shortened version focuses on the 1867 French work's four
famous love duets and showcase arias, plus choral sections; the full
opera would have run up to three hours.
Is this audience-friendly method the wave of the future for opera on TV,
taking a page from the MTV music-video playbook? Or is there room for
full-length productions taken directly from the stage, minus the grassy
''One of the problems of opera on TV is it can take 2 hours to get
through,'' says Romeo producer Chris Hunt from his office in Bristol,
England. People make time to go to a concert, but at home, with all
kinds of distractions, ''it's hard for even the most ardent operaphile
to sit and concentrate.''
Hunt, also CEO of the Digital Classics label, and director Barbara
Willis Sweete worked hard to make the TV version seamless. Hunt says
that, during a dinner with Alagna and Gheorghiu, he gave his view that
the ''sublime music'' of the opera is written mostly for the lead roles,
and the rest is less interesting and eminently cuttable. He and Sweete
compare their version to a CD of opera highlights.
Alagna was very involved in the cuts, Hunt says, and the famously
demanding tenor and his wife are over the moon about the soundtrack,
recorded in Prague before the three-week shoot in the Czech Republic.
''They think it's the best they've ever done.''
Sweete expects criticism from opera purists. And lip-syncing, she
insists, is the only way ''to hear the beauty of the voice and to adjust
it so it sounds its best and at same time sounds like it's coming from a
This version moves fast -- even repeats from some arias were trimmed.
Hunt notes, ''People who watch TV cop shows or The Sopranos are used to
a certain pacing.'' He hopes if non-opera fans come across Romeo,
''they'll stick with it for a few seconds and think, 'This looks nice. I
can cope with this.' Barbara has made it emotionally affecting very
quickly. It's a familiar story, but you want to see what happens next.''
F. Paul Driscoll, Opera News magazine executive editor, says shorter
opera presentations are ''much more palatable'' to public TV stations.
''There's a limited amount of time they can devote to that kind of
He's surprised that more cable purveyors haven't picked up the trend, as
they're less bound than broadcast stations by half-hour increments.
And Jac Venza, creator of Great Performances, which celebrates its 30th
anniversary this year, looks at the big picture: ''The question is, how
can we make television a really good place for the fine artists of our
generation?'' He has been trying to do that since he pioneered using
subtitles for foreign-language operas. He recalls when NBC would only
run operas in English.
''So much on TV exploits the worst of the American scene, when we have
Americans who rise to the gorgeousness of our symphonies, ballets,
operas,'' he says. ''At this point, we're a very civilized nation and
should be portrayed that way on TV.''