Against a dark backdrop beset with stars, the famous balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet unfolds. A scene of love blossoming told in a thousand stories is made transcendently poetic once more on the stage, this time through Charles Gounod’s music.
The Jacobs School of Music will present this opera with two different casts at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10-11 at the Musical Arts Center.
“Romeo et Juliette” is a French opera by composer Charles Gounod based on the classic Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet.” The opera follows the two young lovers as they find themselves forced to love each other in secret due to their feuding families.
Sarah Bacani, IU professional performer diploma enrollee, plays the titular Juliette in one cast. A lover of the Shakespeare play from a young age, Bacani found herself drawn to the timeless quality of his writing.
“It’s the language aspect,” Bacani said, “I love Shakespearean English because it’s so ‘out of touch’ with how we speak now, so there’s always a new way to interpret it.”
Bacani was also no stranger to the opera, having performed the same role as a cover for Central City Opera in Colorado. She said that this experience deepened her understanding of Juliette for the production at the Jacobs School of Music which allowed her to bring more complex humanity to a character Bacani felt many had reduced to being an ignorant child.
“She has a very strong willpower, she has a very strong sense of what she wants, she’s much more headstrong than people make her out to be,” Bacani said. “At the same time there is that childish aspect about her, she’s youthful and innocent and somewhat naïve.”
With her past opera experience and her familiarity with the text, Bacani said her view of the character had changed considerably. She credited the directors of both “Romeo et Juliette” productions for their text-based approach, which she felt aided her performance.
“The way that we treat the text evolves,” Bacani said. “I’m gaining more insight into how these words can be interpreted. It effects the way you can approach it musically, the way you express it in your voice — sad versus triumphant.”
Romeo and Juliette are wedded in secret during Act 3 by Friar Laurence, played in one cast by IU senior Theo Harrah. Friar Laurence acts as a paternal guide for Romeo, offering him advice on his troubling situation — Romeo’s family is in a deadly feud with Juliette’s family.
In rehearsals, Harrah said he found himself immersed in the Shakespearean world he and the cast were creating, finding new complex layers to Friar Laurence and exploring the flawed humanity he felt was represented in the character’s decision to fake Juliette’s death instead of revealing her marriage to Romeo to her family’s chagrin.
Harrah said this internal complexity was not limited to his character and could be seen throughout the production in those working in front of and behind the scenes. Harrah said that everyone played a pivotal role in bringing “Romeo et Juliette” to life on stage.
“They’ve done a fantastic job creating a world that people will be engaged in, and I hope they’ll be engaged in the story in a way they’ve never done before,” Harrah said.
A story told countless times, Harrah said that the central theme of first love was what drew audiences back to the movies, plays and musical adaptations of the Shakespearean tragedy. Love is something anyone could understand, and Harrah said that was what made the story so relatable for every generation.
“You can put yourself in their shoes, you know what it’s like to be head over heels for someone for the first time and the naivety that comes with that,” Harrah said. “They’re young and foolish, but they’re also deeply relatable which is why we keep coming back to those characters.”