In an interview with MD Theatre Guide, soprano Sarah Joy Miller, who plays in the title role as Juliet, shares that “With everything going on in the world, the story of Romeo and Juliet reminds us of how powerful love can be.” Romeo et Juliette by French composer Charles Gounod, is also proof of how powerful music, particularly opera can be.
Gounod, is best known for his opera, Faust. But did you know that the musical piece of Gounod’s that you have probably listened to the most is actually the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria” which has become a staple at wedding masses, funerals and quinceañeras.
…proof of how powerful music, particularly opera can be.
Charles Gounod adapts William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette to make it his own by making the story more operatic. This is best illustrated by the change in the finale. In the original story, Juliet drinks a potion that makes her appear dead. Thinking Juliet is dead, Romeo then drinks poison that actually kills him. Juliet awakens and stabs herself through the heart with a dagger after seeing that Romeo is dead. Here, Gounod has Juliette awaken to see that Romeo has poisoned himself but is still alive, thereby allowing for one more tragic duet in the finale that has the pair of star-crossed lovers that die at the same time.
The timing of this production at The Lyric is quite fitting since it corresponds with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. This season-closer for Lyric Opera Baltimore is actually the final stop of Romeo et Juliette, which is a co-production of Virginia Opera, Opera Carolina, Toledo Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, and Lyric Opera Baltimore.
Local to this production include the enthusiastic members of the chorus, as well as the lush sounds of the Concert Artists of Baltimore Orchestra. The orchestra is conducted by Adam Turner, the Virginia Opera’s Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor.
Directed by Shakespearean specialist Bernard Uzan, he balances the grand theatrics of an opera with a more natural, realistic setting and atmosphere. The staging of the leads are appropriate and interesting, while the staging of the chorus members are just thrown together in clumps and not given much action.
As with most French operas, there is usually a scene that involves ballet. In this production, the ballet portion was cut for reasons I can imagine being money, as well as making the opera a little bit shorter in length.
Sarah Joy Miller, whose singing voice is as strong as her character, tells the MD Theatre Guide on playing Juliette that “It means a great deal to me to sing this role. It’s an honor to sing this beautiful music, to be given the chance to bring my own voice to what Gounod wrote so beautifully. There’s something sacred about performing the music of a composer that is no longer living. You cannot ask them what they would like here or there, you must read carefully over and over what is in the text and the music and hope to see clearly their intention while also bringing your self to the character. It’s somewhat of a balancing act but also one of the most satisfying parts of singing opera. Juliet is an extremely satisfying character to play. She has quite a journey from young, innocent girl, to one who loves another so much she is willing to take enormous chances and ultimately sacrifice her life. Her courage is inspiring and I love getting to live her on the stage.”
The role of Juliette is complemented by charismatic American tenor Jonathan Boyd as Roméo. Boyd is able to play with each of the notes, adding life and vigor, while showing his vocal range as it goes from low to high in a seemingly effortless manner. Together, Boyd and Miller turn up the heat on the stage, causing members of the audience to hold up their opera glasses to get a close up of these young lovers.
Other stand-out roles include versatile Mexican-American baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco as Mercutio and dynamic bass Kevin Langan as the kindly Father Laurent.
Romeo et Juliette is a fine season-closer for Lyric Opera Baltimore. Next season is sure to be just as wonderful and exciting for opera lovers.
Running Time: Approx. two hours and forty five minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. Sung in French with English Surtitles.
For information about future productions at Lyric Opera, click here.