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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Romeo et Juliette
Charles Gounod's opera, based on Shakespeare's play debuted in 1875. It's not well-known, is rarely done and is receiving a superlative production, directed by Ian Judge, at the Los Angeles Opera.
John Gunter did the breathtaking scenic design, Tim Goodchild the costumes and Kitty McNamee the choreography, assisted by Ed Douglas as Fight Choreographer. This deserves special mention as those dancers are all over the stage all the time, whirling, dancing, strutting their stuff.
Placido Domingo directed the orchestra with passion and flare in this glittering extravaganza. The story of these, if you'll pardon the cliche, star-crossed lovers is so familiar it hardly bears repeating but this production makes it new. The warring families vividly clash from the beginning with Douglas's fight choreography joyously starring. Juliette (Nino Machaidze) sings the familiar Waltz Song, the best-known aria in the opera, with a lyric lilt.
Machaidze and Vittorio Grigolo who plays Romeo are well-matched, both dark and good-looking. Machaidze has a superb mezzo-soprano and has sung Romeo et Juliette all over the world. Grigolo's tenor, once he's warmed up in the Second Act, is a ringing match. He overcame the initial lag with superb acting skills and skillfully dances a step or two, thanks to the choreographers.
Elena Belfiore sings the trouser part of Stephano, Romeo's friend, in her LA Opera debut. Her rich mezzo-soprano and boyish charm do justice to this feisty role. One thing leads to another and, before we know it, Mercutio (Museop Kim), Romeo's quick-tempered best friend, jumps in and becomes embroiled with Tybalt (Alexey Sayapin). A moustachioed baritone, Kim a dashing Mercutio but no match for Russian tenor Sayapin, also making his LA Opera debut. Mercutio's death infuriates his friend Romeo who snatches up a convenient dagger and runs the dastard through.
Bass Vitalij Kowaljow makes a sonorous and imposing Friar Laurence who turns the play towards its inevitable and tragic conclusion. The Nurse is sung by mezzo-soprano Ronnita Nicole Miller heard in Eugene Onegin. Here the role is larger, giving Miller more acting and singing scope, which she accomplished with elan.
This opera gives R&J a moving duet at the end, as opposed to the play. Musical prowess aside, it's a beautiful and moving finale with a well-earned nod to the leading characters. There are a number of arias throughout the opera spotlighting characters whom we barely remember from the play, such as Stephano, Lord Capulet (Vladimir Chernov who sings the role with distinction) and Philip Cokorinos as the Duke of Verona, another noble.
The Los Angeles Opera has done this little-known work by Charles Gounod proud. Despite its lilting if not memorable score, the performance was unforgettable.