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Gounod's 'Romeo and Juliet'

While you might not think so, Charles Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, based on the play by Shakespeare, is one of the rarest things in opera.

Over the centuries, Romeo and Juliet has inspired all kinds of music. There are songs, symphonic poems, Broadway musicals and film scores.

In the Broadway category the most famous example must be West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein and words by Stephen Sondheim. That show, in turn, has spawned countless "covers" of its hit tunes, in all manner of musical guises. Take, for example, a tune featured here, along with the opera – "I Feel Pretty" performed by Little Richard!

Among the many films inspired by Shakespeare's tragedy, the one with the most famous music is probably the version by Franco Zeffirelli. The movie's score, by Nino Rota was a hit all on its own.

There's also plenty of "classical" music inspired by the play, including the familiar tone poem by Tchaikovsky, and a brilliant ballet by Sergei Prokofiev.

So what makes Gounod's opera a rare bird? It's not just that it's based on Shakespeare's tragedy; there are plenty of other operas in that category. What's unusual about Gounod's version is that it's an opera based on Shakespeare that's actually a hit. There are hundreds of Shakespeare operas, and a couple of dozen based on Romeo and Juliet. But, astonishingly, of those hundreds only a few are still "in the repertory." Of all the "R & J" operas, there's really only one true "hit," and we've got it on this edition of World of Opera.

The production comes from one of America's strongest, and most innovative opera companies, Houston Grand Opera, and features the brilliant tenor Ramon Vargas as Romeo, with soprano Ana Maria Martinez as Juliet.

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