The original inspiration for this “symphonie dramatique”, first performed in 1839, was a performance of Shakespeare’s play (in David Garrick’s edited version in which Juliet awakens from her deathlike sleep before Romeo’s death from a much slower-acting poison), which Berlioz saw at L’Odeon in Paris. The cast included Harriet Smithson, who went on to inspire “Symphonie Fantastique”.
In this Barbican performance, Michael Tilson Thomas celebrates his 50-year collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra, of which he is now Conductor Laureate. The soloists are Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor) and Nicolas Courjal (bass).
The eventual composition of “Romeo et Juliette” as we know it now, was made possible by the generous gift of 20,000 francs by Paganini. After hearing a performance of “Harold in Italy”, the virtuoso had publicly knelt before Berlioz and hailed him as the heir to Beethoven. Paganini died shortly afterwards, and did not read or hear the piece for which he had provided the funds.