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29 Nov 2005

Strange Love — The Met’s weird new production bleeds the delicate chemistry out of Roméo et Juliette

romeo_juliet_met_small.jpg(Photo: Ken Howard / The Metropolitan Opera)

By Peter G. Davis [, 5 December 2005]

According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, there are more than 380 vocal theater works based on Shakespeare’s plays, but only a handful have any musical or dramatic worth. That seems rather severe, especially since Grove’s short list of worthy examples omits Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, now playing at the Metropolitan in a new production. Have we lost Roméo forever? Superior critics tend to get snippy when writing about this most fragrantly delicate of French romantic operas, and the refined vocal style the roles require, and which singers once cultivated as a matter of course, is no longer a priority. There are still very sound musical reasons why the work was so hugely popular in its day, particularly in New York during the 1890s when Roméo epitomized Met glamour at its most opulent and the company could engage casts that were truly spectacular.

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