Julietta is an opera by Bohuslav Martinů, who also wrote the libretto, in French, based on the play Juliette, ou La clé des songes (Juliette, or The Key of Dreams) by the French author Georges Neveux. A libretto in Czech was later prepared for its 1938 premiere, and it has become widely considered as Martinů's masterpiece.

Performance history

The opera received its first performance at the National Theatre, Prague on 16 March 1938, with Václav Talich conducting, a few months before Martinů made his last visit to his country of birth. Subsequently the opera has only been intermittently performed at that house; new productions were mounted in 1963 and 1989, and an Opera North production was seen three times in 2000; in March 2016 a new production was premiered at the theatre.

The UK premiere was given in April 1978 in London by the New Opera Company at the London Coliseum, conducted by Charles Mackerras in an English translation by Brian Large, with Joy Roberts and Stuart Kale in the principal roles. A production by the Bielefeld Opera in Germany conducted by Geoffrey Moull received eight performances in 1992.

While modern performances have been relatively rare, The Guardian notes performances[2] by Opera North in 1997, and a production by Richard Jones in Paris in 2002 which was revived by English National Opera in London in September/October 2012 to enthusiastic reviews overall.[2] Germany's Theater Bremen stages a new production opening on March 29, 2014 under the direction of John Fulljames.[3] Andreas Homoki and Fabio Luisi staged a new production at Opernhaus Zürich with Joseph Kaiser as Michel in 2015. The Berlin Staatsoper premiered a new production on May 28, 2016 at its temporary Schillertheater home, with Daniel Barenboim conducting, Claus Guth[4] directing, Magdalena Kožená as Julietta and Rolando Villazón as Michel.

There are two principal roles: Julietta (soprano) and Michel (tenor). James Helmes Sutcliffe remarked in Opera News[5] on "Martinů's beautiful score" and on his "lyrical, atmospheric music". Hindle and Godsil have published a psychoanalytical study of the opera and analysed the work in the context of Martinů's life.[7]

Orchestral Suite

Martinů began to prepare a concert work from the opera, "Three Fragments from Julietta", with changes to the original vocal lines, after the opera's premiere, after his return to Paris. However, the outbreak of World War II interrupted his work, and his own labours on this composition continued until his death in 1959. The score was lost after Martinů's death, until 2002, when Aleš Březina discovered the piano reduction of the score among a private collection of papers. After Březina returned to Prague to have this adapted into a full orchestral score, the Czech publishing firm DILIA revealed that a full score already existed in their archives.[8] Sir Charles Mackerras conducted the world premiere of the "Three Fragments from Julietta" with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in December 2008.


RoleVoice typePremiere Cast, 16 March 1938[9]
(Conductor: Václav Talich)
JuliettasopranoOta Horáková
MicheltenorJaroslav Gleich
Small Arabmezzo-sopranoŠtěpánka Štěpánová
Old ArabbassLuděk Mandaus
Woman selling birds and poultrymezzo-sopranoEma Miřiovská
Woman selling fishsopranoMarie Pixová
The man with the helmetbaritoneZdeněk Otava
Police officertenorKarel Hruška
Three gentlemensopranosMarie Budíková, Anna Kejřová, Anna Petridesová
Grandfather YouthbassJosef Celerin
GrandfatherbassJosef Křikava
GrandmothercontraltoMarie Veselá
Fortune tellercontraltoMarie Podvalová
The seller of memoriesbass-baritoneJan Konstantin
The old sailorbassJosef Munclinger
The young sailortenorJosef Vojta
The old ladymezzo-sopranoBožena Kozlíková
The forest guardtenorKarel Hruška
The messengersopranoTáňa Tomanová
The officialtenorMiloslav Jeník
The beggarbass-baritoneStanislav Muž
The convictbassLuděk Mandaus
The railway engineertenorJosef Vojta
The nightwatchmanbassHanuš Thein
Chorus: Townspeople; a group of grey figures.


Michel is a traveling salesman who stumbles across a seaside city where none of the residents remember their past. Michel is trying to find a woman whose voice he once heard in the wilderness. After his arrival in the town, he is elected to lead the town. He eventually does find the woman, named Julietta. However, it is not clear whether she is real or a product of his imagination. Eventually, Michel is provoked into shooting Julietta, but because of the ambiguity of the situation, it is not certain if she is dead. Later, at the "Central Office of Dreams", Michel is warned that if he does not wake up to escape the dream, he will be imprisoned in the dream-world forever. At the end of the opera, where the residents again go about their business oblivious to immediate past events, Michel remains in the dream-world.