In 1827, French composer Hector Berlioz saw Irish actress Harriet Smithson as Juliet in an English-language production of Romeo and Juliet at Paris’ Théâtre de l’Odéon. He immediately became obsessed with both Shakespeare and Smithson, started planning a large-scale work based on the tragedy, and convinced the reluctant Smithson to marry him in 1833. Their relationship succeeded only marginally better than that of Shakespeare’s “star-crossed lovers” — they separated several years later — but Roméo et Juliette, which premiered in 1839, was one of Berlioz’ supreme achievements.

It will be performed on Sunday, Feb. 19, by the Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus, with a total musician count of 174, quite possibly a record for the Lensic Performing Arts Center stage. Principal Conductor Guillermo Figueroa leads the orchestra, chorus, and vocal soloists Rebecca Robinson (mezzo-soprano), John Tiranno (tenor), and Adrian Smith (baritone) in the kind of sweeping, full-length work Santa Fe seldom gets to enjoy.

Berlioz intentionally set out not to write a standard operatic treatment of the well-known story and triumphed admirably. His title characters are portrayed by the orchestra rather than by singers, and he drew musical inspiration from two Beethoven symphonies, rather than operatic models.