Last night I attended Lyric Opera’s wonderful production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, based, of course, on Shakespeare’s play.
When I walked into the theater before the opera started the curtain was already up, I could see the set, and I had a certain foreboding. The set consisted of a large, tubular scaffolding looking like nothing so much as an El platform. My misgivings were soon dispelled.
During the short overture the cast filed onto the partially-lit in funeral garb set carrying candles (or pin-lights of some sort) and sang a brief, mournful passage—they’re attending the funeral of one of the Capulets, killed in their feud with Montagues. Suddenly, the lights go up, the music changes, the mourners strip off their overcoats and cloaks revealing formal attire and ballgowns, chandeliers descend from the rafters, and we’re in a joyous ballroom. An extremely effective transition.
Gounod’s 1870 opera, Romé et Juliette, consists largely of a pair of showy soprano solos—Juliette’s first act waltz, Ah, je veux vivre, and her fourth act “potion” aria, Amour, ranime mon courage, and four tenor-soprano love duets, probably the largest number in any opera in the common repertoire.
Russian soprano Dina Kuznetzova executed her arias with aplomb and her tenor co-star, Massimo Giordano, was her equal. This was his Lyric Opera debut and I suspect we’ll see more of him. Perhaps a better way of saying it is “I think he’s going places”. Competent tenors are hard to come by and young, good-looking, competent tenors are highly sought after. He may grow beyond Lyric’s grasp.
But it was their duets which really impressed. So many tenor-soprano love duets become contests of “anything you can sing I can sing louder”. In this performance Kuznetzova and Giordano were quite restrained, singing together.
Special kudos go to Ian Judge’s direction—without question the finest job of direction we’ve seen at Lyric in a long time. He even managed to turn the characteristic, static crowd scenes into a virtue—sort of like tableaux. I wouldn’t have thought it possible.
Well balanced cast, fine performances, excellent direction, good use of the rather abstract set. One of the best all-round productions we’ve seen at Lyric.