Lucia di Lammermoor
An opera in five acts, sung in French
Music by Charles Gounod
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré
Based on the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
A chorus tells of an endless feud between two great families, the Montaigus and the Capulets, and the young Roméo and Juliette, whose tragic love brought the feud to an end.
ACT I Verona
A lavish masked ball is taking place at the Capulet palace. Tybalt, a Capulet gentleman, assures the wealthy Count Pâris that his cousin Juliette’s beauty is beyond compare. When Juliette arrives, Lord Capulet presents his daughter to the guests.
Roméo, a Montaigu, sneaks in with his friends Mercutio and Benvolio. Roméo is nervous about entering the Capulet residence: He has had a strange dream that he thinks may be a premonition of some great misfortune. Mercutio dismisses the dream as mere fancy, the work of the fairy Queen Mab. Soon, however, Roméo sees Juliette. He is instantly entranced. Juliette, meanwhile, knows that her father wants her to marry Pâris, and she confides in her nurse, Gertrude, that she has no interest in marriage. But when Juliette sees Roméo, she is deeply intrigued by this handsome stranger. They find a moment to speak alone. Although they are both shocked to discover that the other is a member of the rival family, they cannot deny their mutual attraction.
Tybalt appears. Roméo puts on his mask to avoid being recognized and rushes off, but the proud, quarrelsome Tybalt has already recognized the intruder as Montaigu’s son. He wishes to chase after Roméo, but Capulet restrains him, ordering the party to continue.
ACT II Juliette’s garden, that evening
Roméo enters the Capulets’ garden looking for Juliette. When she appears on her balcony, he steps forward and declares his love. Servants briefly interrupt their encounter, but once they are alone again, they make plans for a secret wedding.
ACT III Frère Laurent’s church, dawn the following morning
Roméo comes to Frère Laurent’s cell, followed shortly by Juliette and Gertrude. At first, Frère Laurent is shocked to see a Montaigu and a Capulet together. But finally, convinced of the strength of their love, the priest agrees to marry them. He hopes that the union will end the fighting between their families.
A street in Verona
Outside the Capulets’ palace, Roméo’s page, Stéphano, sings a song mocking the Capulets, provoking the Capulets to attack him. Mercutio intercedes to protects Stéphano, and soon the skirmish escalates into a violent swordfight between Mercutio and Tybalt. Just then, Roméo arrives on his way home from the church. He begs Tybalt and Mercutio to forget about the hatred between their families, but when Tybalt kills Mercutio, Roméo furiously stabs and kills him. The Duke of Verona arrives, with the Montaigus and Capulets hot on his heels. Both of the families are outraged and demand justice—the Montaigus for Mercutio, the Capulets for Tybalt. The Duke, for his part, is primarily concerned with preventing future skirmishes from destroying the city’s peace. He refuses to execute Roméo, but he does banish the young man from the city, declaring that if Roméo is seen again inside Verona’s walls, he will die.
ACT IV Juliette's bedroom, early the following morning
Roméo and Juliette have spent a secret wedding night together. She forgives him for killing Tybalt, and they promise to love each other forever. Then, as a lark outside the window announces the arrival of day, Roméo reluctantly leaves for his exile.
Capulet enters and tells his daughter that she must marry Pâris that very day. She tries to argue with her father, but, unmoved by his daughter’s tears, Capulet angrily tells his daughter to prepare for the wedding. Juliette is left alone with Frère Laurent, whom she desperately begs to help her. Although he is at first reluctant to meddle, Frère Laurent finally gives Juliette a sleeping potion that will make her appear dead. He promises to write a letter to Roméo explaining the potion and his plan to help Juliette avoid her marriage. The letter will also invite Roméo to return secretly to Verona; when Juliette wakens, Roméo will be by her side. Together, they will flee the city and embark on a new life. Juliette is terrified, but she drinks the potion. When Capulet and the guests arrive to lead Juliette to the chapel for her wedding, she collapses.
ACT V The Capulets’ family tomb
Despite Frère Laurent’s careful planning, his letter has gone astray, and when news reaches Roméo of Juliette’s burial, he believes that she is truly dead. Crazed with grief, Roméo arrives at the Capulet crypt carrying a bottle of deadly poison. He has no desire to continue living, and he drinks the poison. At that very moment, Juliette wakes up. She is overjoyed to see Roméo, and together the young lovers imagine a happy future. Just as they are about to leave the crypt, however, Roméo staggers and falls. With horror, Juliette realizes that he is dying. Drawing a dagger from Roméo’s belt, Juliette stabs herself.
The play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
In 1530, the Italian writer Luigi da Porto published a story of two warring families. Bearing the whopping title Historia novellamente ritrovata d’uno innamoramento: Il quale successo in Verona nel tempo del Signor Bartholomeo de la Scala: Historia jocondissima (A recently discovered love story: Which happened in Verona at the time of Signor Bartholomeo de la Scala: A most happy story), the book relates how two teenagers from opposing households fell in love, chose death over separation, and thereby effected their families’ reconciliation. By name-dropping the real-life Veronese nobleman Bartholomeo de la Scala in the title, da Porto implied that the book was based on a true story; he also trumpeted the story’s “most happy” reconciliation rather than dwelling on the heroes’ untimely deaths. Yet by the time an adaptation of da Porto’s story hit the boards in London some 55 years later, this “most happy” story was destined to become one of literature’s most famous tragedies, and the incidental name of Signor Bartholomeo de la Scala was eclipsed entirely by the names of the story’s two young protagonists: Romeo and Juliet.
From Venice, where da Porto’s story was published, a chain of writers relayed the story across western Europe to England. This path of transmission included a Romeo e Giulietta (1554) by the Italian Matteo Bandello; a French translation of Bandello by the writer Pierre Boiastuau (1559); and a narrative poem, based on Boiastuau, by the English writer Arthur Brooke, titled The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562). It was likely Brooke’s version that, in the middle of the 1590s, fell into the hands of one William Shakespeare, an up-and-coming playwright and actor working with the Lord Chamberlain’s men in London. Other writers after Shakespeare, too, would take up (and in some cases claim to improve upon) Shakespeare’s drama. Yet it is Shakespeare’s dramatic retelling of this tragedy, rather than the narrative versions of his predecessors, that cemented Romeo and Juliet’s place in literary history, the popular imagination, and the operatic canon.