About this Recording
8.110140-41 - GOUNOD: Romeo and Juliet (Metropolitan Opera) (1935)
English 

Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Roméo et Juliette

Charles Gounod, one of the great nineteenth-century masters of operatic melody, had a huge early success with Faust, based on the dramatic poem by Goethe, and spent the rest of his career trying to match it. He came closest with a work based on a play by another great poet, Shakespeare. His setting of Roméo et Juliette was composed in 1865-67 with the help of the librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, who had served him well with other operas including Faust. To make Shakespeare’s tragedy suitable for the lyric stage, much of it had to be cut; the result was that the two star-crossed lovers loomed even larger in the opera than they had in the play. Gounod rose to the occasion with a series of marvellous duets for the tenor and soprano who took the title rôles – like other operatic composers who tackled Shakespeare’s text, he could not resist having a final duet in the Tomb Scene, which meant the story had to be adjusted. Otherwise his librettists stuck reasonably closely to the original. The tenor was given much superb declamatory music as well as a magnificent aria; and the soprano was allotted one of the waltz-songs which were de rigeur in French opera at the time. This song, the opera’s only other hit number, unless you count the baritone’s Queen Mab song, was a late addition; Gounod originally intended Juliette’s rôle to be more declamatory like that of Roméo, but found himself with a relatively light soprano, Marie Miolan-Carvalho, for the première. He therefore capitulated to her request for something brilliant in Act I and allowed her to omit her big aria in Act IV Scene 1. Since then Juliette has usually been sung by a lyric soprano and so this aria has generally been cut, as on this recording. The first performance took place in the Théâtre-Lyrique, Paris, on 27th April 1867 and within three months the opera had been heard in London with Patti and Mario. By the end of the year it had been staged in New York and other major centres. Famous exponents of Juliette have included Melba, Farrar, Heldy, Féraldy, Norena, Sayão, Micheau and Freni, while Roméo has been sung by Jean de Reszke, Ansseau, d’Arkor, Crooks, Thill, Luccioni, Björling and Kraus.

            Roméo et Juliette was not recorded during the 78rpm era, even though many of the singers mentioned above made important individual discs, so we must rely on Saturday-matinée broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where it was a repertoire piece for many years. If we want to hear how it was performed in the heyday of French style, there is only one choice, this broadcast from the l934-35 season. Change was in the air at the Metropolitan, as the long-serving manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza was about to retire, but the structure he had built up, with its fine chorus and orchestra and its excellent supporting singers, was still in place. The cast of our Roméo includes one legendary character singer, the tenor Angelo Bada, who had actually come over from Italy with Gatti-Casazza in 1908, and another, the bass Léon Rothier, who had been at the Met since 1910. One of the protagonists, the illustrious baritone Giuseppe de Luca, had adorned the Met stage since 1915 (his reward for such loyalty was to be disposed of on Gatti’s departure, a decision which deeply upset him, although he returned for the 1940-41 season). The new generation is represented by the mezzo Gladys Swarthout, a dull singer on her studio records but more sprightly when heard ‘live’. What makes this recording special, apart from the still vibrant de Luca and the sonorous Rothier, is the singing of the tenor and soprano and the superbly stylish conducting. Granted, in an ideal world both Eidé Norena and Charles Hackett would be able to ‘retake’ a few notes (better still, they would be recorded at a slightly younger age) but there is enough wonderful singing here to make the pulse beat faster. She characterizes Juliette as a real teenager: her singing is full of wide-eyed wonder and hope until the tragic dénouement. He declaims Roméo’s music with a beauty of legato tone and an amplitude of phrasing which is rarely heard today. Their duets are the highlights of the performance, which is as it should be. In the pit, the masterly Louis Hasselmans knows exactly when to exert control and when to give the singers their heads. Listen to how beautifully he and the orchestra phrase the opening bars of Act II. The big moments are finely handled and the final peroration, though spoilt by the usual crass applause of the Met audience, is magnificent. An incidental pleasure is the commentary of Milton Cross, with his inevitable mention of the afternoon’s sponsor.

 

Louis Hasselmans, born in Paris on 15th July 1878 into a prominent musical family of Belgian extraction, made his mark as a cellist, taking a first prize at the Conservatoire in 1893. He was principal of the Concerts Lamoureux and a member of the celebrated Quatuor Capet before turning to conducting. From 1909 to 1911 he was at the Opéra-Comique, and again in 1919-22, in Montreal in 1911-13 and at the Chicago Civic Opera in 1918-19. He was a close friend and colleague of Gabriel Fauré. In 1913 he conducted the first Paris performance of Pénélope and four years later Fauré dedicated his First Cello Sonata to him. Hasselmans first conducted at the Met on 20th January 1922 (Faust) and stayed for fifteen seasons, giving 378 performances of fourteen French operas including the Met premières of Pelléas et Mélisande, L’heure espagnole and Don Quichotte. He died at San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 27th December 1957.

 

Eidé Norena was born Karolina Hansen at Horten, in Norway, on 26th April 1884, and studied with Ellen Gulbranson in Oslo. Having started as a concert singer in 1904, she made her operatic début in Oslo in 1907. In 1909 she married the actor Egel Naess Eidé and began calling herself Kaja Eidé. She sang mainly in Oslo and Stockholm before undergoing further studies with Raimund von zur Mühlen and belatedly starting an international career as Eidé Norena. Although her début rôle at La Scala (1924), Covent Garden (1924), the Paris Opéra (1925) and Chicago (1926) was Gilda in Rigoletto, she became a byword for style in the Franco-Belgian repertoire – from 1928 she lived in Paris and was a favourite at the Opéra. She had only a few seasons at the Met. She died in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 19th November 1968. Norena made beautiful records of French and Italian repertoire.

 

Gladys Swarthout was born at Deepwater, Missouri, on Christmas Day 1900 and studied in Chicago, where she made her début at the Civic Opera in 1924. Her Met début came on 15th November 1929 as La Cieca in a matinée of La Gioconda and in thirteen seasons she sang 22 rôles. Her good figure made her an asset in travesty rôles and in the 1930s she became a popular film star, renowned as one of America’s best-dressed women. Her most famous stage rôle was Carmen. The last years of her career were affected by heart trouble and in 1954 she retired to Florence, where she died on 7th July 1969 at her villa, La Ragnaia.

 

America, land of baritones, has produced few tenors of quality but Charles Hackett was undoubtedly one of them. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on 4th November 1889, he began as a boy alto, studied in Boston and 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 his Met début in Il barbiere (with de Luca as Figaro) on 31st January 1919, staying until 1921 and returning in 1934 for five more seasons. In between he sang at La Scala and in Monte Carlo, Paris, London (taking part in Melba’s farewell evening, as Roméo to her Juliette in the Balcony Scene) and Chicago. During this time his voice gained a little in power but kept its tone. He retired in 1940 and taught at the Juilliard School but died all too soon in New York on New Year’s Day 1942. He made a number of records, not all featuring material worthy of him.

 

Angelo Bada was born in Novara on 27th May 1876 and died there on 23rd March 1941. His only vocal training was as a boy soprano at the Cathedral. From 1898 he sang the small operatic rôles in which he specialised; by 1905 he was at Covent Garden and by 1906 at La Scala. In 1910, by which time he had begun his thirty-year stint at the Met, he sang at the Paris Opéra. A master of make-up and characterization, he made many guest appearances at other theatres and was Dr Caius in Toscanini’s Falstaff at Salzburg in 1935. He can be heard on a number of studio recordings and broadcasts.

 

Giuseppe de Luca was the all-rounder among the great baritones of the Golden Age, equally effective in comic and tragic rôles. Born in Rome on Christmas Day 1876, he was an excellent boy soprano and sang in a church choir, making his operatic début at ten. His teachers were Bartolini, Persichini and Cotogni. In 1897 he made his adult début in Faust at Piacenza and by 1900 he was at the San Carlos, Lisbon. He sang in the premières of Adriana Lecouvreur, Siberia and – less luckily – Madama Butterfly; the last two of these were at La Scala. From 1905 he sang in South America, from 1906 in Russia and from 1907 in London. His Met début was made on 25th November 1915 as Rossini’s Figaro. In a career lasting more than half a century he sang everywhere with great success, taking part in more premières and making many records. Some of his interpretations of the standard arias are virtually definitive. He can also be heard on a Met broadcast of La Bohème from 1940.

 

Léon Rothier, born in Rheims on 26th December 1874, began his career as an orchestral violinist in his home city before taking up singing seriously and studying at the Paris Conservatoire. He made his début at the Opéra-Comique in 1899 as Jupiter in Gounod’s Philémon et Baucis and the following year took part in the première of Louise. He left the Opéra-Comique in 1907 and sang in various French theatres before starting his thirty years at the Met. As late as 1949 he gave a recital at Town Hall, New York. He died in that city on 6th December 1951. Among his recordings are two scenes from Un ballo in maschera with Caruso.

 

Tully Potter

 

Synopsis

 

CD 1

 

[1         In a prologue, the chorus tells of the feud between the Capulets and Montagues and of the ill-fated love of Romeo and Juliet.

 

Act I

 

[2]       The curtain rises on a ball given by the Capulets, where all is pleasure. Tybalt addresses Count Paris, ready to fall in love with Juliet, who now appears, delighted at the celebration. Old Capulet urges his young guests to dance, an activity for which he is now too old. Among the guests are Mercutio and Romeo, masked, like the rest of the company, and anxious to avoid discovery.

 

[3]       Mercutio, in answer to Romeo’s claim to have had a dream, sings his ballade of Queen Mab, flying in her nut-shell chariot through the night, who brings false dreams, of ambuscades and glory to soldiers and of kisses to lovers.

 

[4]       Romeo feels uneasy in the house of the Capulets, and Mercutio jokingly attributes his mood to his love for Rosaline. Now Romeo sees Juliet, and falls in love with her at first sight, a fickle change that his friends had foreseen. Juliet and her nurse talk of marriage.

 

[5]       Juliet dreams of the love that she will experience some day, however transitory it may be.

 

[6]       Captivated, Romeo asks the name of this beautiful child and Gregorio, instead, addresses himself to the nurse, Gertrude, who moves to go to supper, with Juliet. Romeo begs the latter to stay for a moment.

 

[7]       Romeo professes his love for Juliet, seeking to kiss this shrine of beauty, a request she refuses, before eventually accepting his protestations.

 

[8]       Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, is heard approaching, and Romeo only now learns that Juliet is the daughter of Lord Capulet. Romeo has resumed his mask and hurries away, but Tybalt has recognised him by his voice, to Juliet’s distress at learning the ominous identity of her professed lover. Romeo re-appears, and Tybalt vows revenge. Capulet, however, insists that the ball should continue, whoever the young man is.

 

Act II

 

[9]       The scene is Juliet’s garden, where Romeo hides, while Mercutio and his friends call to him from outside.

 

[10]     Romeo declares his love, as Juliet is seen at her window, preparing for bed.

 

[11]     Juliet now appears on her balcony, musing sadly on her love for Romeo, who is overcome as he hears her. He declares himself, and she receives his protestations. They are interrupted by the approach of Gregorio and the other Capulet retainers, seeking the intruder. Gertrude asks Gregorio what is happening, and he tells her of the intrusion of Montagues into their house. Jokingly, he suggests that the Montague was in search of her, an approach that she would deal with in her own way. They wish her good night, and Gertrude calls to Juliet to come in.

 

[12]     Juliet calls to Romeo, asking him to fix a time when they may meet and be united in marriage. Romeo declares again his love, while Gertrude is heard calling Juliet. The lovers bid each other farewell, until the morrow.

 

Act III

 

Scene 1

 

[13]     Romeo greets Friar Laurence in his cell, as dawn breaks. Juliet approaches, accompanied by her nurse, and asks the friar to marry her to her lover.

 

[14]     With simple ceremony the friar pronounces the words of marriage over the couple, and all join in seeking a blessing on their union.

 

 

CD 2

 

Act III

 

Scene 2

 

[2]       In a square before the Capulets’ palace, the Montague page Stephano, seeks Romeo, regretting that Juliet, beautiful as she is, should be in such a nest of vultures, a dove who will soon find freedom in love.

 

[3]       Gregorio emerges from the palace, seeing Stephano as one who had been among the intruders of the day before. Stephano taunts him and they fight, interrupted by Mercutio and then by Tybalt, who draws on him. Romeo rushes in and tries to separate them. Tybalt turns on Romeo, challenging him, and Romeo half draws his sword, before returning it to its scabbard. He has no quarrel with Tybalt, but Mercutio resents his friend’s apparent submission to the enemy and engages with Tybalt. Mercutio is wounded, and is carried off, dying. Romeo cannot restrain himself and draws on Tybalt, who falls, wounded and dying. Romeo’s friend Benvolio urges him to make his escape. Lord Capulet appears, horrified at the death of his nephew Tybalt, who, as he dies, seeks a promise of revenge. Montagues and Capulets cry out for vengeance. They are interrupted by the Duke, who calls on the feuding families to keep the peace and banishes Romeo.

 

Act IV

 

Scene 1

 

[4]       It is night in Juliet’s chamber, and she forgives Romeo for any injury to her family. They sing of their love on this, their wedding night. Romeo hears the lark, heralding the dawn. Romeo seeks a kiss, before he must go, and climbs down from Juliet’s balcony. She remains gazing at his departure, praying that angels will guard him.

 

[5]       Gertrude hurries in, anxious at Lord Capulet’s approach. Capulet enters, accompanied by Friar Laurence, and announces Juliet’s proposed husband, Count Paris, Tybalt’s ineluctable choice. The four express their own reactions to this news.

 

[6]       Alone with Friar Laurence, Juliet seeks his help. He gives her a phial containing a drug that will induce in her the appearance of death and allow her to escape.

 

Scene 2

 

[8]       Juliet is duly found dead and taken to the family tomb, where she sleeps.

 

[9]       Romeo, who has not received Friar Laurence’s letter warning him of the plan for Juliet’s escape, approaches the Capulet tomb, lamenting her early death. He takes a phial of poison and drinks from it, falling to the ground, as Juliet begins to recover. He is amazed at her recovery, seemingly from death, and they express their joy in each other. Romeo then reveals that he has taken a fatal poison and is dying. Their wedding night is recalled, but now disturbed by the nightingale, not the lark, as Juliet seizes a dagger and stabs herself, so that they die together, with a final kiss.

 

Keith Anderson

 

Producer’s Note

 

Almost anyone today who owns a cassette or VCR recorder has probably taped radio or television programs, for it has become as simple as inserting a tape into the machine and pressing a button. Recording “off the air” was not

always such an easy matter. During the early 1930’s, one could purchase an apparatus for recording broadcasts that attached to an ordinary record player and used pre-grooved discs. That method yielded almost unlistenable recordings of little value today. Fortunately a more sophisticated recording process was also developed which used a lathe to cut grooves into highly polished aluminum discs. Radio networks began using the system to record selected broadcasts for their archives and the pleasure of a few prominent celebrities. Before long, studios began making custom recordings and for the first time one could pay to have a broadcast transcribed. Aluminum discs were soon supplanted by lacquer coated discs which yielded less noise and captured greater frequency response and dynamic range. This type of disc remained the standard format for “off the air” recording until the introduction of magnetic tape.

            The Metropolitan Opera Company began its regular Saturday afternoon broadcasts in December 1931, but only a few fragments survive from the first years. By 1934 recording these broadcasts was becoming more common and a surprising number of complete or nearly-complete performances exist from the 1934-35 season. Unfortunately most of the original aluminum discs on which these broadcasts were captured are no longer available; most transfers emanate from tape dubs which, more often than not, were poorly made years ago from the original discs.

            In the case of this performance of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, a complete set of 78 r.p.m. twelve inch aluminum discs has been preserved by tenor Charles Hackett’s son. This transfer is made directly from those discs, and although the noise level is at times high, the sound quality is excellent for a broadcast transcription of this vintage. The distortion heard during forte passages is absolutely typical of recordings made on these early aluminum discs. The outer edges of many of the discs have corroded, causing occasional but severe scraping sounds which I have attempted to attenuate. In order to preserve as much of the original sound as possible, I have used no excessive filtering or digital noise reduction and have used CEDAR technology only to remove clicks, and pops. Additionally, I found that each side varies in speed between its beginning and end from about 78 down to 76.5 r.p.m. I have endeavored to adjust the speed to keep the pitch reasonably constant throughout the performance.

 

Ward Marston

 

In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work ‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.

            Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.

            In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.


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