The tragic tale of Romeo et Juliette

The Metropolitan Opera held a breathtaking French performance of ‘Romeo et Juliette’ on Saturday night. My friends, who had so very kindly invited me, had a box. I pinched myself with happiness as people with their own dress code took their seats and the orchestra warmed up; that wonderful sound of discordant notes that somehow work – if only to build anticipation of what’s to come.

I sat up front and centre, transfixed by every movement and sound. The sputnik-style crystal chandeliers disappeared into the ceiling, dimming in their orbit. Lights glowed in the orchestra pit, which brimmed to the edge with musicians and instruments ready to play under the powerful direction of Placido Domingo. Fluorescent dots slowly disappeared from sight as people’s mobile devices were powered off, until we sat in a gentle darkness.

The curtain raised and a sea of performers gathered around the dead bodies of Romeo et Juliette. Each person subtly grouped in waves of colour: The ladies in hues of mandarin and shades of pink (so glad they got the memo).  The Capulet men wore aubergine, The  Montegues-taupes and blues.  The set design was simple, elegant and classic allowing you to focus completely on the performance.

While the story line had certainly been adapted from Shakespere’s original play, I couldn’t help but think that if it had been modern day, would their relationship have had such a tragic ending?  Here’s how it went down (the abbreviated version):

Romeo Montague is depressed. He’s mad about Rosaline; thinks she’s going to be Juliette Capulet’s birthday ball and, with friends, sneaks in. Instead his attention wanders; he is captivated by Juliette (excuse me Romeo, whatever happened to Rosaline??).

Romeo woos Juliette.  Juliette falls in love with Romeo. Famous balcony scene takes place where Romeo overhears Juliette declaring her love for him. At dawn they are secretly married by Friar Laurence.

Tybalt, Juliette’s cousin, is incensed that Romeo crashed the ball, challenges him to a duel.  Now he’s family, Romeo doesn’t want to fight, but the elopement is still a secret. Mercutio (Romeo’s bf) steps up to the plate and is killed. Romeo now fights Tybalt and mortally wounds him. Romeo is exhiled from Verona by The Prince who’s word is law.

Romeo defies the Prince and returns to Verona to spend one last night with Juliette to consummate their marriage. (My most vivid memories of this opera are not of the infamous balcony scene but of their marital bed suspended mid air by invisible wire, the midnight-black stage imploding with stars.)

At dawn, Romeo departs. Juliette is ‘woken’ by her father. He’s unaware that she’s already married and announces that she’s going to marry Count Paris… that day.  (The wedding planner must have been working overtime.)

Juliette turns to Friar Laurence who, in turn, offers her a potion that will put her in a ‘death like coma’ for two and forty hours.  She downs the liquid; I think she even licked her lips. Friar Laurence says he will watch out for Romeo and let him know.  While being escorted to the wedding chapel, the potion begins to take effect. Juliette elegantly falls, her white wedding dress spilling, spilling, spilling around her, is declared dead and lain in the family crypt.

The message does not get to Romeo who arrives at the crypt and finds Juliette ‘dead’. Not wanting to live without her, he ingests a lethal poison. To his delight, she wakens (complete deviation from Shakespere’s rendition), and the lovers share a vision of a life together but it’s too late!  With perfect timing, the poison begins to take effect. Juliette is beside herself with grief and she stabs herself with his dagger.  Both are now very much dead.

And it all appears to be Friar Laurence’s fault as he didn’t pass on the message.

As we spilled out of the box and into the cold night air, I couldn’t help but wonder:  Feuding families not withstanding, would their relationship have withstood the test of time?  To believe in a love that can conquor everything? If this had taken place today rather than the end of the 16th century, whether the outcome would be the same? Probably so…

I often have delayed texts, voice mails I did not listen to, phone calls and bbm’s that get cut off midway.  In our haste to communicate, and in spite of all the different devices available to us, we often get it wrong. Hanging up when there is dead air but the person on the other end was just collecting their wits. Relationships ending with a text message or because of one. Feelings not taken into consideration, a message read but misunderstood….

But perhaps true love does not need to be communicated. As Juliette sang: “Let me live in the dreams that capture my soul…”

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