Roméo et Juli­ette

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS - Juli­ette. Roméo et tableau vi­vant, Roméo et Juli­ette

This year, Santa Fe Opera un­veiled its firstever pro­duc­tion of Charles Gounod’s Gounod’s li­bret­tists, Jules Bar­bier and Michel Carré, largely fol­lowed Shake­speare’s story — the tale of the tragedy that en­sues in fair Verona when Romeo Mon­tague and Juliet Ca­pulet cross the line of fa­mil­ial di­vi­sion and fall in love.

Di­rec­tor Stephen Law­less sets the ac­tion not in Re­nais­sance Italy but rather in the United States dur­ing or just af­ter the Civil War. Law­less him­self seems half­hearted about it, and the con­cept is not woven con­vinc­ingly into the de­tails of the stag­ing. Ash­ley Martin-Davis de­signed the sets and the cos­tumes, and the lat­ter have much more to rec­om­mend them. They are lovely to be­hold, rich in spiffy mil­i­tary uni­forms for the men and bil­low­ing gowns for the ladies.

The open­ing scene was per­formed spec­tac­u­larly well by the opera’s cho­rus, made up of the com­pany’s ap­pren­tice singers. I doubt that there is an opera cho­rus in the land that equals this one’s com­bi­na­tion of youth­ful high-qual­ity voices and com­mit­ment to dra­matic pur­pose. Cho­rus mas­ter Su­sanne She­ston has fash­ioned them into a real choral en­sem­ble.

This pro­duc­tion boasts strength from both leads. So­prano Ailyn Pérez worked her way up to a pow­er­ful pres­ence as Juli­ette. In re­cent years she has been hon­ored with some of the opera world’s top awards, and the rea­sons are made clear in much of her per­for­mance here. To my ears, though, the most en­dear­ing qual­i­ties of her voice di­min­ish when she moves into top vol­ume; but what I hear as stri­dent at full throt­tle oth­ers may ex­pe­ri­ence as thrilling. As Roméo, Stephen Costello’s gleam­ing tenor showed even warmth through­out his range. His per­for­mance com­bined dra­matic ur­gency with unerring vo­cal taste­ful­ness; and what’s more, he sang con­vinc­ingly in French.

The sec­ondary parts were up­held solidly. Mez­zoso­prano Deb­o­rah Nansteel of­fered some amus­ing un­der­state­ment as Gertrude ( Juliet’s nurse), and bass Ray­mond Aceto aptly con­veyed the se­ri­ous­ness of his po­si­tion as Frère Lau­rent. Mezzo-so­prano Emily Fons, as Roméo’s page Stéphano, took a re­laxed tempo with con­duc­tor Harry Bicket in her aria “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle”; it hon­ored Gounod’s mark­ing, yet the in­ter­pre­ta­tion would have ben­e­fited from more punch and sparkle. Most im­pres­sive among the sec­ondary roles was the Mer­cu­tio of El­liot Madore. His rich-toned bari­tone com­bined with clear dic­tion, and one was truly sorry to see his role end mid­way through the opera.

The mu­si­cal struc­ture of hinges to a large de­gree on the four ex­tended duets be­tween the young lovers. Law­less di­rected Pérez and Costello so as to re­flect their evolv­ing re­la­tion­ship. They seemed not to have reached a full boil for the Act II bal­cony scene, but their Act IV duet achieved a level of mu­si­cal eroti­cism that matched the ac­tion on­stage. Their mov­ing death scene in Act V in­spired the sur­round­ing mem­bers of the two fam­i­lies, posed asa to come to life and lay down their arms as the lovers ex­pired.

“Roméo et Juli­ette” con­tin­ues with per­for­mances at 8 p.m. on Aug. 9, 16, and 25.

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