Charles Gounod's adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (Roméo et Juliette) premiered Sunday afternoon, November 6 at LA Opera and will run until Saturday November 26. The familiar story of the ill-fated lovers stars Georgian-born soprano Nino Machaidze as Juliette and Tuscan tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Romeo. Vladimir Chernov plays her bombastic father, and the strong supporting cast includes Museop Kim as Mercutio, Alexey Sayapin as Tybalt, Daniel Armstrong as Count Paris, and Ronnita Nicole Miller as Juliette's attendant (the Nurse). This production is a revival of an original LA Opera version first mounted in 2005. It is directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company's Ian Judge and conducted by Maestro Placido Domingo. The opera runs just over three hours with one fifteen-minute intermission.
Georja: Friends and associates who are not frequent opera attendees are always asking me for advice on going to the opera. Hands down I would heartily recommend to them, and to ardent opera fans as well, the current masterful production of Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at LA Opera.
Gerald: At rise, we begin at the end, with the huge chorus - the families Capulet and Montague - garthered around the bier of the dead lovers. They express their guilt and remorse - too late - for the bloody feud. Much of it is a capella, booming and powerful. The LA company's world-class chorus is a starring character in this emotional story.
Georja: This production has so much to offer and, having just seen it, I would consider it to be impeccable and the very highest artistic achievement. The timeless story itself is a built in calling card. Nearly everyone is familiar with Shakespeare’s haunting and tragic love story about teens from warring families who fall completely in love. It is a compelling drama, more so than many of the story lines of other opera dramas, which tend to be more convoluted. This opera follows closely the bard’s story line, minus many of the subplots. You also lose most of Shakespeare’s magical poetry. But you do gain the delicious added element of the music, which embellishes and brings out every ounce of the intense emotional life of the characters.
Gerald: You'll find a few of Shakespeare's memorable lines in the libretto. But for the most part, this is big emotion, not words, with the extensive cast of the play and its complex plotting greatly simplified. Think "I love you" and "I need you" taking up an entire scene, and yet you're not bored in the least. It's the power of opera, something marvelous beyond what words - even forceful words - can express.
Georja: At the helm of the orchestra is the beloved Placido Domingo, Eli and Edy The Broad General Director. He also conducted the original LA Opera production in 2005. He writes, “Although I have been eager to revive Romeo, I was willing to wait until I could find the perfect duo of lovers for the title roles, and I hope that you will agree that we have found them.”
Absolutely, Placido! Nino Machaidze, originally from the republic of Georgia, has become my favorite LA Opera soprano since seeing her in as Adina in The Elixir of Love, and Fiorella in The Turk in Italy, which we saw multiple times. Her talent is unsurpassed: charisma, beauty, comic ability, acting, gorgeous and memorable strong voice. She is the perfect Juliette. And coming from her role as Fiorella, where she plays a naughty and hilarious vixen, to Juliette, a youthful and eager romantic teen, goes to show her remarkable range. Luckily, Placido also discovered a Romeo who could hold his own with her, the young and very popular Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo. He has the vocal chops to keep up with Nino, as well as the looks and bravado on stage. This coupling is another compelling reason not to miss this production.
Georja: But it doesn’t stop there! Everyone in the show was outstanding. Vladimir Cherov as Lord Capulet has energy, style and presence which are well suited to his role as charming host and proud father, as well as a very pleasing baritone. He is a professor of vocal studies at UCLA and combines teaching with his singing engagements. Museop Kim as Mercutio gives a very engaging and frisky performance as Romeo’s best friend. Vitalij Kowaljow as Friar Lawrence, who played Wotan in the LA Opera’s Ring Cycle, gives a beautiful soulful performance as Friar Laurence. Everyone was fantastic and we also must give special mention to Renee Rapier making her LA Opera debut as a stand in role of Stephano. She has a beautiful voice and was quite the cheeky boy in her pants role.
It was wonderful to have the talents and presence of a full LA Opera chorus under the direction of Grant Gershon showing off singers and dancers, as well as fighters, in many scenes. And wow the costumes, set in the 19th century French operatic style of Gounod, were detailed and perfect, thanks to the rich designs of Tim Goodchild.
Gerald: The creative team's choice of costume and setting is remarkable, I think. Gounod premiered his opera in Paris in 1867. Just a few years later, Paris would erupt in its own family feud, the second Commune, a class war that tore the city apart, neighbor against neighbor. Eventually the rebels took over the opera house and used it as their base of operations. Think of what it would be like if Occupy Wall Street went on for years as an armed struggle - with protesters living in Lincoln Center.
Georja: John Gunter’s scenic designs were creative and allowed for quick changes and lots of actors coming in and out. His three tiered structures deftly served as inside and outside of the Capulet mansion, the church, the balcony area, and the Montague’s house. The simplicity of the scarlet drapery and bed mid stage was genius. I must also mention the dramatic lighting patterns which so enhanced the story and brought out different elements as they changed. Thanks to lighting designer Nigel Levings.
Georja: Kudos to the director, Ian Judge, veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company for pulling it all together. All the action and staging was energized throughout with people running and fighting and loving and dying, constantly being compelled into every moment, from the very first moment of the prologue.
All I can say is, this is a true gem and anyone who loves the arts should make sure to get a ticket. I hope to get another before it closes.
Photos by Robert Millard for LA Opera
Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod
Sunday November 6, 2011 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday November 9, 2011 7:30 p.m.
Saturday November 12, 2011 7:30 p.m.
Thursday November 17, 2011 7:30 p.m.
Sunday November 20, 2011 2:00 p.m.
Saturday November 26, 2011 2:00 p.m.