Romeo and Juliet Movie Music Review

Oct 7, 2007

The movie that I chose to watch was Romeo and Juliet, which is a love story that ends tragically. It incorporates both comedy and a romantic twist to give the story a unique plot. The music used in this movie, and particularly in the last scene where the hero Romeo and heroine Juliet both die, is the “Liebestod” theme from Richard Wagner's  Tristan und Isolde . This is an opera composed by Richard Wagner between 1856 and 1859 but premiered in Munich, Germany, later on in 1865. In the nineteenth century, operas were used as a means of communication, and this particular one was a romantic drama.

The opera takes the form of a love story that cannot be fulfilled. The main characters are Tristan, a knight, and Isolde, who is supposed to marry the king. Tristan kills Isolde's fiancé accidentally, and Isolde decides to tell Brangäne, her servant, to give him poison. However, due to a turn of events, Tristan receives a love potion instead. He then instantly falls in love with Isolde, and they even consummate their love in the night. Unfortunately, the king who is supposed to marry Isolde walks in on them committing unfaithfulness. The two men fight, and Tristan gets severely wounded.

In the third act, Tristan is now joined by Isolde, and he dies in her arms just upon her arrival. It is then that the secret of how he had been given the love potion is revealed by one of the servants who worked for Tristan. The servant also gets killed by the king and dies at the master's feet. Due to the reality striking that Tristan did not do the acts out of his free will, but under the influence of the love potion, Isolde dies out of grief and joins his lover Tristan in death.

The reason as to why this opera was used in this movie was that both the opera and the story in the movie are stories of people falling in love as victims of circumstances and not out of their own free will. These are stories of two people who were in love, not because they had willingly wanted to, but due to the circumstances they faced. Juliet's parents wanted her to get married to Paris, who they thought was more of their class. However, she later came to meet Romeo who swept her off her feet. Although he was from a rival family, their love was later to reconcile the two families.

Another reason why "Liebestod" was chosen as the best theme for Romeo and Juliet was the unfortunate turn of events in both scenarios. The people die before they even have the chance to enjoy their newly found love. The male characters die first, leaving the females with no other option but to join them in death with the belief that they will have a chance to continue with their love even in death. In the opera, Isolde dies out of grief, but in  Romeo and Juliet , Juliet wakes up from her sleep to find her husband dead beside her, later using his dagger to kill herself and join Romeo in death. 

In addition, one more reason why the opera was chosen to accompany the movie was that the two stories are si milar in every way; there is some sense of betrayal in both, as well as a sense of love that ends very tragically. “Liebestod” means “love death” in German, perfectly matching the story of Romeo and Juliet. Wagner’s  Liebestod  remains one of the most passionate musical pieces, and its harmony, which somehow depicts ease and difficulty simultaneously, matches the theme of the story. The intensity of the music slowly builds up and thickens, followed by a smooth resolution toward the end.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, although tragic, also found a resolution at the end. Its very story resonates in Wagner’s Liebestod with its build up of low intensity melody. It reflects the challenges faced by Romeo and Juliet. The slow ease of intensity as it ends also embodied the ending of the story, making  Liebestod  the perfect choice of music for the movie. 


DiCaprio, L. (Director). (2003).  Romeo + Juliet  [Motion picture]. Italy: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Groos, A. (2011).  Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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