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Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet

Sun / Jan 10, 2021 - 2:00PM

This choral symphony is the most personal musical response to Shakespeare’s drama ever written.

About this Performance

It’s hard to imagine anyone having a more powerful reaction to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet than Hector Berlioz. The composer was utterly devastated when he first witnessed a production, despite the fact that he spoke not a word of English and relied on an ineloquent, garbled French translation. “By the third act, scarcely able to breathe – it was as though an iron hand had gripped me by the heart – I knew that I was lost,” he recalled in his memoir. Inspired by how he felt, Berlioz created an innovative and risky choral symphony.  

Though the work features three solo singers and a chorus, nearly two-thirds of the score is purely instrumental. Berlioz didn’t attempt to recreate the iconic narrative. Neither the words of Romeo nor Juliet are sung, ever. What he instead created is an intensely personal reaction to the play’s deeper meanings, through depictions of those characters and themes that he found most meaningful.

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