23 Nov 2012

Roméo et Juliette by Arizona Opera

French composer Charles Gounod wrote his five-act opera  Roméo et Juliette  to a libretto that Jules Barbier and Michel Carré based on William Shakespeare’s  Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

The opera had its world première at the Théâtre Lyrique Impérial du Châtelet in Paris on April 27, 1867. It was Gounod’s biggest hit after Faust, which was first seen in 1859, and it was sorely needed. Faust had been performed 300 times since its premiere, but his next operatic compositions: Philemon et Baucis, La Colombe and Mireille, were nowhere near as successful.

After its Paris opening, Roméo was seen in Italian at Covent Garden in London on July 11, 1867 and in French at the Academy of Music in New York on November 15 of that year. The opera was originally thought to be most notable for its exquisitely constructed duets and for Juliette’s first act waltz song, ‘Je veux vivre’. Since then, however, her dramatic Poison Aria ‘Amour ranime mon courage,’ which was sometimes omitted in earlier performances, has become one of the work’s centerpieces. 

On November 16, 2012, Arizona Opera presented Roméo et Juliette at Phoenix’s Symphony Hall in a mostly traditional production by Candace Evans. She told the story in an easily understandable manner that brought out the personalities of the work’s many characters. The one controversial aspect of Evans’ production was her use of narrators to present some of Shakespeare’s original lines. They spoke over the orchestral music during the overture and the interludes. Fight director Andrea Robertson had the young men dueling quite realistically. The fact that every move was carefully choreographed was never evident. The scenery, originally designed by R. Keith Brumley for Lyric Opera of Kansas City, was dark and colorless, but functional. Corinna Rose Bohren’s costumes, fashioned after the work of Peter J. Hall, added the necessary color to the stage picture. Douglas Provost’s lighting design, too, served to add some spice to the stage picture.

It was the inspired conducting of James Meena that held this production together. His tempi were taught but he always allowed the singers any leeway they needed. Zach Borichevsky and Corinne Winters, a couple in real life, sang Roméo and Juliette most convincingly. Tall and slim with an exciting sound to his tenor voice, Borichevsky was perfect for his part, while Winters, a petite Juliette, had both the lustrous vocal timbre for the Waltz Song and the bold dramatic colors for the Poison Aria.   Both these singers can act, too, and that added measurably to this performance. Borichevsky sang a small part in Richard Strauss’ Arabella last summer in Santa Fe but even that few minutes onstage were enough to alert the audience to his significant talent.

Jamie Offenbach was a stentorian and commanding pater familias as Capulet and David Adam Moore sang his technically difficult Queen Mab Aria with pizzazz. Contralto Meredith Arwady is a talented comedian and her scenes afforded considerable relief to the otherwise unrelenting tragedy of the story. Singing the dual roles of Frère Laurent and the Duke of Verona was the sumptuous-voiced Jordan Bisch who created believable characters in both cases.

In her portrayal of Stéphano, resident artist Laura Wilde sang her aria with robust tones that could have had a bit more dynamic variation. David Margulis and Thomas Cannon, also members of the company’s young artist program, were thoroughly committed to their roles of Benvolio and Grégorio. Henri Venanzi’s chorus is always a delight and this performance was no exception. They French was good and so was their musical performance. The staging had them sometimes standing as a block, but when they did move they were individual family members and townspeople. This was a well though out production that gave the Arizona audience a chance to appreciate some fine new singers. 

Maria Nockin

Cast and Production

Roméo: Zach Borichevsky; Juliette: Corinne Winters; Capulet: Jamie Offenbach; Mercutio: David Adam Moore; Frère Laurent and The Duke of Verona: Jordan Bisch; Gertrude: Meredith Arwady; Stéphano: Laura Wilde; Benvolio David Margulis; Grégorio Thomas Cannon; Narrators: Sterling Beeaff, Peter Oldak, Natalie Sanchez; Conductor: James Meena; Director: Candace Evans; Chorus Master: Henri Venanzi; Fight Director: Andrea Robertson; Scenic Designer: R. Keith Brumley; Costume Designer: Corinna Rose Bohren; Lighting Designer: Douglas Provost. Arizona Opera at Phoenix Symphony Hall November 17, 2012.