Friday, February 18, 2011
Opera review: Romeo & Juliet at Winspear Opera House in Dallas
The technical aspects of the show were brilliant, while the performances were excellent overall but not flawless.
A sumptuous feast for the senses. This phrase best described the current production of Romeo & Juliet currently running at the Winspear Opera House and presented by Dallas Opera (playing through February 27).
Visually, it was stunning. This was perhaps the most gorgeous looking production ever mounted. The costumes were brilliantly executed: The hues, the textures, the details, the fabrics, the designs, the fit, were stunning. No expense was spared. Each costume, and we are talking dozens upon dozens in this production, looked as if they were custom- made and fitted for each performer. The sets were grandiose and aesthetically beautiful. The balcony scene, in particular, with overgrown vines and cascades of foliage and flowers induced gasps from the audience as the curtain lifted.
I couldn't have begun to imagine the cost of that one particular and most spectacular set. Because of the elaborate sets, there were prolonged moments of silence between set changes. This was usually a detriment, but every time the curtain lifted we were rewarded with scenery that was worth the wait. The only odd set item was the cross in the church during Romeo & Juliet's marriage: it was a protestant cross. It should have been a crucifix for they were Catholic.
The lighting design by Mark McCullogh was also stunning. The changes were subtle and flawlessly executed. Twice we had the experience of dawn breaking, and he captured the feel of the change of light from night to the first early rays of morning twilight without resorting to obvious gimmicks. He was able to make Juliet, lying in the vault, glow ethereally without casting distracting shadows. The lighting itself enhanced the storyline without ever really calling attention to itself.
So, the technical aspects of the show were brilliant, what about the performances? Overall, excellent but not flawless. Odds were there were no performers in their teens that could do the challenging vocal roles required for the two young lovers of the Opera. It required a suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience to accept that the older performers were actually the age of Romeo and Juliet. The only way to overcome this obstacle was through the acting.
Lyubov Petrova, as Juliet, was convincing. To say she was a magnificent soprano would have been an understatement. Her vocal control was outstanding. Her upper range was clear, distinct and resonant. Her performance seemed effortless. She was also a consummate actress. She melded her vocal prowess with her acting ability so that the two became one. Yes, she was singing, but it didn't come across as such, it came across as acting. Her youthful energy and even her sometimes awkward movements convinced me she was a teen madly in love.
I wish I could say the same for her counterpart, Charles Castronovo, as Romeo. His delicious voice fit the part. I loved his singing voice. But his acting was all over the place. His take on Romeo in the first third of the show was too much of a Don Juan. I wasn't sure he was as much in love with Juliet as much as he simply wanted to bed her. He came across as a man in lust, not a youth in love.
He was far too serious and dour in the balcony scene. After the first intermission he entered the stage with a rush of energy for his wedding. Suddenly we saw the Romeo we expect to see: foolish, awkward, and madly in love. Unfortunately once we got to the bedroom scene, which was staged with much eroticism, his love making came across as a man who had done this numerous times. The result was that he came across a bit of a player. One who did fall in love with his mistress but nonetheless a player. This would be a good choice for Don Giovanni but not for Romeo & Juliet.
Joshua Hopkins as Mercutio, on the other hand, with his impetuous nature, delivered a far stronger performance then Romeo. Aaron Blake, as Tybalt, also captured the essence of a spoiled youth, though in his case his volume was a little too low.
Roxana Constantinescu played Stephano, Romeo's page. Hers was a curious performance. Granted, a woman was required to play the role of a young boy in order to deliver the upper notes of role. But she seemed to be unable to transition into them smoothly, the result being her voice blared with a bit of a whine to it. Lovely voice, but the upper reaches felt forced. Mark McCrory as the Duke, though on stage for about five minutes, gave a very impressive performance. It made me wish his role had been larger.
I could say the same with Jane Bunnell as the nurse Gertrude and Robert Lloyd as Frere Laurent. Their roles were more developed then that of the Duke, but each had moments that nearly stole the show. Between their delicious voices and their nuanced acting, I'd love to see them together in lead roles. The program did not list who played Lady Capulet since she wasn't required to sing, but the actress that portrayed spoke volumes in her silence. She impacted the opera and the story line tremendously.
Musically, Conductor Marco Zambelli worked with the orchestra quite well. He had a true feeling for the romanticism of the piece. My only quibble would be with the wind instruments that on a few occasions overpowered the strings, splitting the melodic focus.
The director Michael Kahn truly understood the audience's needs in his staging. He kept the proceedings moving at a visual pace that added pleasure and excitement. He also delved into visual compositions the reminded us of classical paintings. His direction was highly aesthetic, and elicited wonderful performances overall.
The one thing you should know about Gounod's opera is that it followed very closely Shakespeare's text, till the last scene. Melodically it was spectacular. The libretto contained some of the most famous lines from Shakespeare. Unfortunately the ending was not quite the same. We were poised for what is one of the greatest tragedies. And while the ending was tragic it wasn't as monumental as Shakespeare's text.
It was a subtle change, and I won't give it away, but in my estimation it wasn't as effective, for it lacked the horror of the original. The difference was you left the theatre feeling sad, but not devastated. Regardless of how great the performances were, this ending felt slightly disappointing, when you knew the "other" ending.
So was Romeo & Juliet worth seeing? Let me put it this way, my companion had never been to an Opera and didn't care much for classical music. After this performance he wanted to see every Dallas Opera. He became a resounding convert. I agreed.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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