Romeo et Juliette
For the opera to work, I think one needs exceptional voices and a certain amount of glamor and romantic abandon in the title roles. The last time I saw the opera, it was in 2007, and the teen lovers were Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna. Both of them had flaws in their vocal performance, but they were exciting, sensual performers who threw themselves into the roles of teenage lovers. It wasn't that they looked 13 (they didn't), it's that they seemed to believe they were 13 and falling in love for the first time. Last night the Metropolitan Opera revived Gounod's opera in a professional but somewhat dull performance, that did not transport me into Gounod's lush, romantic vision of Shakespeare's play.
Guy Joosten's production consists of a unit set which is a circular turntable that depicts some Renaissance-style astronomy. (Get it? Star-crossed.) The back of the stage has a wood panel that opens up to set the scene, and there are colorful period-style costumes, as well as a floating bed for the lovers. It's a nice, lavish, romantic production that suits Gounod's somewhat over-romanticized, over-lavish adaptation. I've heard though that singers don't like the production, and I can understand why. The circular turntable has a steep rake that sometimes makes for some awkward blocking. And the Juliette in the premiere run, Natalie Dessay, famously fell out of the floating bed. There are also moments when the stage directions seem a direct contrast to the libretto. For instance, Mercutio angrily asks Romeo why he "interfered" in the fight with Tybalt, an event which led to Tybalt giving Mercutio the fatal wound. But in this production, Romeo is a bystander in the Tybalt-Mercutio duel the entire time, so Mercutio's accusation is a big "huh?" moment. The production also is determined to make every duet between the star-crossed lovers extremely moonlit, which means a dark, bluish lighting whenever the two are singing. But in the Act IV duet "Nuit d'hymenee" it's dawn, and time for Romeo to leave for exile, which makes the moonlight, bluish lighting against the floating backdrop less appropriate.
|The floating bed|
I had more of a problem with Piotr Beczala. Most of the most beautiful, ardent music in the opera belongs to the tenor. Beczala walked onstage wearing the largest Dynasty-era shoulder pads in the world, but he does look the part, being handsome in a clean-cut, boyish kind of way. But where was the passion, the ardency? This Romeo barely looked at his Juliette all night. He was unable to make certain gestures, like reaching for Juliettte's hand in the balcony, or convulsing from the poison in the Tomb Scene convincing or heartrending. Another problem is his timbre -- it's somewhat slender and dry in sound, and lacks warmth. I noticed this last year when I saw him in La Boheme -- where the voice should bloom, it narrows. But a Rodolfo can get away with being a lean lyric tenor. I feel that with Romeo a more heroic, spinto sound is ideal. His top notes sound tight and constricted. "Ah leve-toi soleil" was fine, but again, the lack of warmth in his timbre was a problem. At the end of Act III, he decided to go for an unwritten high C, and he cracked terribly. One cracked note doesn't make or break a performance, but it was an unfortunate gamble that didn't pay off.
Placido Domingo was in the pit and I know that he's gotten a lot of flack as a conductor. He could have brought more shimmering beauty out of the orchestra in the almost Wagnerian postludes that end both Act Two and the finale of the opera, but I thought overall he did no harm.
Finally, maybe I didn't enjoy this performance of Romeo et Juliette as much as I enjoyed the performance in 2007 because of a state of mind. In 2007 I had finally moved back to NYC, and the Romeo was the first performance I attended after my move back to NY. I was excited to hear live opera again, excited to see Netrebko live for the first time, just flat out happier. Yesterday I was tired and not in a particularly good mood, and the four love duets seemed overlong and cheesy. Beczala and Hong, for all their attributes, weren't able to sweep me away and make me believe in star-crossed love.
Meanwhile, here's a clip of Alagna and Netrebko in the Tomb Scene. Enjoy!