The opera's two-act libretto is by Felice Romani, who went on to write the librettos for nearly all of Bellini's most famous works, including Norma and La Sonnambula. Unlike so many other versions of the Romeo and Juliet story, this one is not based on Shakespeare. Instead, it's rooted in several old Italian versions of the same legend.
Wilfried Hösl/Bavarian State Opera
Tara Erraught as Romeo. Wilfried Hösl/Bavarian State Opera
ACT ONE opens at the home of the Capulets, Juliet's family. They get word that their arch-enemy, Romeo of the Montagues, is sending an emissary to negotiate for peace. But there's not much chance of that, as Romeo has recently killed the Capulet's oldest son.
The Montagues' emissary arrives, and it's Romeo himself. He proposes that the two families end their dispute — and he also has a more personal proposal. He's willing to cement the peace by marrying Juliet. Capulet, Juliet's father, angrily refuses. Capulet is still looking to avenge his son, and Juliet is already engaged to Tebaldo.
In the next scene, Juliet is in her room, preparing unhappily for her wedding. She and Romeo are deeply in love, and she wants nothing to do with Tebaldo. Lorenzo, the family physician, then arrives. He feels for Juliet, and he's brought Romeo with him for a secret visit. Romeo wants Juliet to run away with him. But she can't bring herself to betray her family, and turns him down.
The act concludes in a courtyard, where the Capulets are preparing the wedding feast. Romeo is there in disguise, hoping to abduct Juliet, but the Capulets recognize him. When Romeo openly declares his love for Juliet, a battle breaks out, and the lovers are separated.
Eri Nakamura ............ Juliet
Tara Erraught ...........Romeo
Dimitri Pittas ...........Tebaldo
Carlo Cigni .............Lorenzo
Steven Humes ....... Capulet
Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Yves Abel, conductor
As ACT TWO begins, Juliet is at home, alone. She hasn't heard how the battle turned out, and she's afraid that either her father or Romeo has been killed.
Lorenzo arrives with the good news that both men are still alive. He also convinces Juliet that there's only one way to avoid the marriage to Tebaldo, and instead wind up with Romeo. Lorenzo will give Juliet a potion that simulates death, and she'll be revived after she's "laid to rest" in the family mausoleum. In the meantime, Lorenzo will tell Romeo about the scheme. Then, Romeo can rescue her from the tomb and the lovers can escape together. Juliet is hesitant, but she's also desperate. So she agrees to the plan and swallows the potion.
The scene changes to an isolated clearing outside the palace, where Romeo has confronted Tebaldo. They're about to fight a duel when a funeral procession approaches, carrying Juliet's body for burial. Romeo is grief-stricken — because somehow, Lorenzo has failed to inform him that Juliet's death is a fake.
Romeo follows the procession to the tomb. When everyone has gone, he goes in. He sings a farewell to Juliet, and then takes poison. Juliet is revived, and manages to tell Romeo about Lorenzo's drastic plan, but it's too late. Romeo dies, and Juliet also collapses. As the opera ends, their families rush into the mausoleum — and find both lovers dead.