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  • S. Lachterman

A Grand and Supreme Roméo et Juliette at the Met

Review by S. Lachterman

Roméo et Juliette at the Met

March 20, 2023

Nadine Sierra
Nadine Sierra in the Met 2024 Rómeo et Juliette by Charles Gounod

Music, Charles Gounod

Conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Director, Bartlett Sher

Juliette Capulet, Nadine Sierra

Roméo Montaigu, Benjamin Bernheim

Frère Laurent, Alfred Walker

Mercutio, Will Liverman

Stéphano, Samantha Hankey

Gertrude, Eve Gigliotti

Tybalt, Frederick Ballentine

Considering how infrequently this opera appears, I consider myself fortunate to have heard it less than twelve months ago at the Glimmerglass Festival. The Cooperstown production had musical merit and an excellent cast, but the eccentricities of the staging, and the religious iconography which heavily conveyed “star-crossed lovers” were, in my view, distractions. Today, I savored the musical excellence as well as the somewhat muted resplendence conceived by Bartlett Sher. The stars enchanted the entire production. Nadine Sierra, as Juliette, shined and only waxed brighter throughout the evening, bringing everything imaginable to her part: a thrilling voice, great beauty, and a dramatic depth that swept us away.

Benjamin Bernheim, our Roméo, is simply the finest French tenor in opera today. When I first heard him some years ago in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, he breezed through the role’s notorious difficulties. Today, in the Gounod, each aria was perfection; his highs could be clarion, or, oh-so-gently projected. The aria in Act II, “Ah! leve toi soleil,” was breathtaking, and brought a cascade of approbation. It is rare to find an opera where two principal singers, both in the prime of their careers, convey a youthful amorous presence. The onstage chemistry between Bernheim and Sierra was something that mere musical compatibility, dramaturgy, or stage direction could not alone engender. The two fully realized their passionate roles: youthful, loving, yet forebodingly cognizant of their overreaching union and the odds in favor of the family rivalry prevailing. Ms. Sierra’s voice never flagged from the lyric waltz, "Je veux vivre," to her gripping delivery of "Amour, ranime mon courage."

Benjamin Bernheim
Benjamin Bernheim as Rómeo in Gounod Rómeo et Juliette

The secondary roles were by no means inferior. Samantha Hankey, singling the trouser role of Stéphano, displayed as much vocal agility as physical agility in swordplay. Alfred Walker’s sonorous Frère Laurent was outstanding and lustrous. Will Liverman and Frederick Ballentine were ideal as combative rivals who both fall in loyalty to their families. Eve Gigliotti serviceably sang nurse Gertrude without the usual distractive mugging.

Bartlett Sher updated the action only a century and a half. This lent him more clearly defined costuming and set inflections. Unlike recent Met productions that brandish contemporary or fully transposed settings, Sher makes effective choices that flatter the already winning interplay of the principals. In truth, straying far from the original creates yet another “Romeo and Juliet” retelling of which there are, historically, dozens. It was a wise decision to let Sierra and Bernheim be the focus. The stage design was quite conservative, again, seemingly not to deter from the focus on the music. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Met orchestra, and the chorus were particularly resounding. Esteemed British veteran fight choreographer B. H. Barry did an exemplary job training these athletic singers to duel.


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