Glimmerglass 2023 Romeo and Juliet
Charles Gounod Roméo et Juliette
Review: S. Lachterman
July 15. 2023
Romeo and Juliet
Opera by Charles Gounod (Roméo et Juliette)
Duke Kim, Romeo
Magdalena Kuźma, Juliet
Olivier Zerouali‡, Mercutio
Sergio Martinez‡, Friar Laurence
Stefano de Peppo, Count Capulet
Hayden Smith‡, Tybalt
John Mburu‡, Duke of Verona; Friar Laurence (Cover)
Lisa Marie Rogali‡, Stephano
Meredith Arwady, Gertrude
Darren Drone, Gregorio
Jonathan Patton‡, Paris
Will Upham, Benvolio
Reece Bernard, Actor
Joelle Lachance, Actor
Allison Hill-Edgar, Lady Capulet
Directed by Simon Godwin.
Conductor, Joseph Colaneri
‡ Young Artist
Simon Godwin, a stellar Shakespeare director, Artistic Director of Washington D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, has deep experience in contemporary and classic performances of Romeo and Juliet. Recently, he directed a contemporary version for London’s National Theatre that was filmed in 2021.
This evening’s production was his first opera directorship. R&J has more baggage to bear than almost any other play: we have the “star-crossed” lovers (emphasis on “cross” for theological significance), duels and street brawls, gorgeous love scenes transcending a mere balcony’s height, and a fouled potion/poison love pact which defines the ultimate tragedy. Countless adaptions abound, and Mr. Godwin has taken bits from tradition and our contemporary perceptions. Dan Soule’s sets seemed, at times, lukewarm, and Robert Wierzel relied on some well-worn background lighting (red for tempestuous moments, blues and green mixes otherwise). I thought it was ironic that Gounod’s opening bars with unison open fifths (D-A) seem to have been suggested by Wagner’s Flying Dutchman introduction. Even Wierzel’s lighting effects and the prominent red and magenta was clear in 2013 Glimmerglass production as noted in my review for New York Arts. The ball scene also seemed to borrow reusables from past productions; so much so that one was challenged by heterogeneity and left to imagine specific “wheres,” “whens,” and “whys.” The appearance of crucifixes in productions has been a common trope: “star-crossed lovers,” the clandestine marriage to bring harmony, and then, ultimately, a sacrifice. I found the Christian imagery here (cross and censers) to be heavy-handed (and this evening, unfortunately, off-center and tilted). The ball featured a side-show gender-bending band of carnival clichés (including a comical fake snake handler). In the second part, the street fight was a mosaic of West Side Story imagery juxtaposed with nineteenth-century royal uniformed dress.
Any disappointment, though, was amply counterbalanced by the splendid singing of the principals, their impassioned interpretations, and the credible dramaturgy. The orchestra, conducted by Joseph Colaneri, gave the score appropriate gravity and taste. I was convinced that Gounod’s opera is far richer, deeper, and profound than its occasional waltz or coloratura embellishments that prompted shameful reviews of the 1867 premiere in Paris. Certainly, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, premiered two years earlier, had already changed expectations for composers at that time. Suppressed love, striving for survival against the light of reality, would dictate extending the intense harmonic language and harmonic rhythm. In Gounod’s evolving musical sensibility, the Wagnerian chromaticism is barely hinted at, while simple “numbers” are transformed to extended symmetric sections of great passion. This opera is a great “first grand opera” for newbies, with a plot and melodies that can draw a tear or two.
Duke Kim, in a standout performance as Romeo, revealed a vibrant, virile tenor with a comfortable blend of ranges. He was appropriately vulnerable and impassioned as the part demanded, but his sensitive and agile stage presence were winning throughout. The sumptuous “Ah! lève-toi! Parais!” was as moving as I’ve heard.
Juliet, Magdalena Kuźma, a Yale/Oberlin graduate who recently appeared with the Santa Fe opera, took a bit loosening up from the daunting highs at the start (“Ècoutez …. Ah”). Her flexibility, range, and sustaining power did not disappoint in the Ariette, “Ah! Je veux vivre.” Throughout the evening, Ms. Kuźma glowed in the more fervid moments in Act V when dashed promises of love become death and suicide.
The supporting cast was uniformly strong, and special mention must be made to the fantastic contralto Meredith Arwady, Juliet’s nurse Gertude. The part, intended for a mezzo, seemed larger-than-life with her deep timbre. To “lighten up,” she tastefully indulged in some comic shtick, a welcome relief from the gravity at hand.