With excellent singers in the title roles, Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette becomes a series of wonderful, romantic duets and, with the right chemistry between the leads, the work can be downright transcendent and rapturous. When the Metropolitan Opera revived Guy Joosten’s production as part of their 2007/08 season, it was for two stars with a special on-stage connection: tenor Rolando Villazón and soprano Anna Netrebko. This perfect plan fell on uncertain footing when Villazón abruptly cancelled his season and all but disappeared from the operatic stage for two years. Stepping in to save the day, Roberto Alagna proved a superb partner to Netrebko, making this a rewarding souvenir to revisit. Visually and vocally stunning, Netrebko is captivating from first entrance until final curtain. In the famous Waltz song she shows a voice of tremendous size and beauty, darker in colour than is typically heard in the role of Juliette yet agile enough to negotiate its difficult ornaments. Her performance of the potion aria, “Amour, ranime mon courage”, is one of the essential operatic moments captured on film in recent years. 

Alagna sings Gounod’s melodies as if they were written expressly for his voice and artistic manner. In “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!”, he does not implore the sun to rise – he commands it. Yet, for all his ardour, in Juliette’s arms he shows vulnerability and sings with a relaxed, natural delivery. Beyond their respective vocal highlights, the sympathetic connection between Alagna and Netrebko in their many scenes together is the reward of this performance.
The lovers are supported by a strong ensemble cast. Isabel Leonard, in her Met debut as Stéphano, shows the versatile voice and attractive stage presence that have made her a valued artist in leading roles today. Baritone Nathan Gunn is an animated Mercutio, complementing his Queen Mab song with athletic physicality. Charles Taylor as Capulet and Robert Lloyd as Frère Laurent also make strong contributions. Plácido Domingo, at one time the ideal Roméo, conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The Renaissance costumes by Jorge Jara – bold red and magenta for the Capulets and subdued blues for the Montagues – lend pictorial extravagance to each scene, while Johannes Leiacker's sets, awash in cosmic imagery and symbols of the zodiac, create a more romanticised, abstract setting. Much of the action occurs on a rotating disc in the middle of the stage that lends itself well to an overhead camera angle like the one favored by Busby Berkeley in 1930s movie musicals. The emphasis on celestial bodies as backdrops gives Joosten's vision for the work a near-perpetual night setting and consequently many scenes are quite dark. Fortunately Alagna and Netrebko are well lit and captured in several effective close-ups.Though this performance of Roméo et Juliette did not turn out as originally planned (they rarely do in opera), it is an extraordinary one. The charismatic leads sing their hearts out, but it is their believability as two passionate young lovers that turns this series of lovely duets into great opera.