Charles Gounod (1818-1893)

“Ah, Je veux vivre”

from Roméo et Juliette (1867), 3.5 minutes

Charles Gounod was born on June 17, 1818 in Paris, France and died on October 18, 1893 in Saint-Cloud. Roméo et Juliette was first performed on April 27, 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. The work is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, triangle, strings and voice.

Two households, both alike in dignity

(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

- Act 1 Prologue, Romeo and Juliet

 

So famous are these opening words to the prologue of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it is palpable, even in the early modern english, to hear and feel the depth  of pathos setting the stage for the doomed star-crossed lovers. Composers have been compelled, through the generations since the Bard penned the tale, to lend their ears, their music, to express this tragedy of youthful love, from film scores, musicals, songs, orchestral works and operas. Musicians across all genre’s from the classical to the commercial have heard the call.

 

Charles Gounod would hear and answer the Bard’s call in 1867 with the opera “Roméo et Juliette.” With the popularity and success of his previous opera based on Goethe’s Faust, the composer would again collaborate with his Faustian librettists, Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. The opera would follow the play closely with just a few alterations to accommodate the mandatory operatic drama of singing during death.

 

At a masked ball in the Capulet palace, Juliette is promised to Count Pâris and the two dance. Secretly in attendance, and uninvited, Roméo watches Juliette and is instantly smitten. Juliette explains to Gertrude, her nurse, that she has no interest in marriage, and sings the waltz-aria, “Ah, Je veux vivre” (I want to live). What an introduction it serves! The aria is a showstopper, a virtuosic marvel of vocal gymnastics. Gounod prefaces it with a brief orchestral introduction, then beauty and youth, gush fourth in a stunning opening melismatic chromatic descent. Highly ornamented and with immense expressive range, Juliette sings of staying in the dream of youth just a bit longer. In the spirit of Sondheim, Juliette is not in the mood to be getting married today either. 

 

Unfolding in three parts, a ternary form, the 1st and 3rd verses will showcase the primary A-section melody with 3 bars of a short ornamented note followed by a sigh. The 2nd verse will offer a more lyrical B-section as Juliette wishes for youth to last more than a day, and it was very much just a day of youth, for it was her recent menarche that set the betrothal in motion. The final verse will dazzle in a coda of rollercoaster melismas. One will feel a kindred spirit in Roméo, speechless and awestruck. © MTF

Je veux vivre!

 

Ah!

Je veux vivre

Dans ce rêve qui m'enivre;

Ce jour encore,

Douce flamme,

Je te garde dans mon âme

Comme un trésor!

 

Cette ivresse

De jeunesse

Ne dure, hélas, qu'un jour!

Puis vient l'heure

Où l'on pleure,

Le cœur cède à l'amour,

Et le bonheur fuit sans retour.

 

Ah!

Je veux vivre

Dans ce rêve qui m'enivre;

Ce jour encore,

Douce flamme,

Je te garde dans mon âme

Comme un trésor!

 

Loin de l'hiver morose

Laisse-moi sommeiller

Avant de l'effeuiller.

Ah!

Douce flamme,

Garde mon trésor

Longtemps encore!

*Digitally published for the Hawaiʻi Symphony Sheraton Starlight Series on July 9-11, 2021.

I want to live

Ah!

I want to live

In this dream that intoxicates me

Again this day!

Sweet flame,

I keep you in my soul

Like a treasure!

 

This intoxication

Of youth

Alas, don't last just one day!

Then the time comes

When we cry

The heart gives way to love

And happiness flees without return.

 

Ah!

I want to live

In this dream that intoxicates me

Again this day!

Sweet flame,

I keep you in my soul

Like a treasure!

 

Away from the gloomy winter

Let me sleep

Before stripping it.

Ah!

Sweet flame,

Stay in my soul like a sweet treasure

For a long time, again!