RomÈo et Juliette, LA

Though love and gloom permeate
Gounod’s RomÈo and Juliette — the opera opens with a
melancholy choral prologue and ends with a tear provoking death duet — it
was love that won the day when the curtain came down at the opera’s
November 6th opening performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But this was
not the love of the young protagonists for each other, rather it was that of
the audience for the opera, its principle performers, and its conductor Placido
Domingo. The moment the curtain fell, applause overwhelmed the last orchestral
sounds. And the instant it rose again to reveal the singers and set, bodies
shot forth from their seats as one.

The current production is a revival of the 2005 presentation of the work
directed by Ian Judge. As it did six years ago, RomÈo and Juliette brought
together two young singers at the thresholds of their operatic careers,
Georgian soprano, Nino Machaidze, and Italian tenor, Vittorio Grigolo. More
about them in a moment.

Shakespeare’s play, shaped for Gounod by librettists Jules Barbier and
Michel CarrÈ into five acts that focus exclusively on the lovers, gave the
composer abundant opportunity write music filled with love and with dread. When
it was produced in Paris in 1867, the work immediately won the hearts of French
audiences. Its first Metropolitan Opera performances in 1884 were sung in
Italian. Its reappearance in the Met repertory at an 1891 performance in
Chicago marked the first time the company sang a French opera in French. It was
as quickly a success here as well, and why not? Those early performances
featured the De Reszke brothers and Emma Eames.

Who knows what the De Reszkes and Mme. Eames, swathed in their their
multilayered costumes would have made of this slick production delivered in two
acts, featuring slim young lovers romping in bed half nude, and set nowhere in
particular? The essentially unit set with movable sections, is a skeletal iron
structure which recalls old Parisian arcades, or the base of Eiffel Tower.
However, the set changes were fairly rapid and effective. Costumes were dark
and restrained. The beautifully constructed gowns for the First Act ball never
lit the scene, perhaps to help us keep us in mind of impending doom. My major
grievance relates to the direction after Mercutio’s death. Ian Judge has
our hero fighting dirty. After hand to hand pushing and shoving and a brief
duel with knives, Romeo suddenly has a gun in his hand and unhesitatingly
shoots Tybalt point blank. If you heard someone exclaim. “that’s
that not fair,” you were sitting near me.

RJb4242-1.gifAlexey Sayapin as Tybalt and Museop Kim as Mercutio

Neither Machaidze or Grigolo, who was making his LA debut, is new to French
opera. The soprano was Juliet in Salzburg in 2008 and in Verona this past July.
She and Grigolo performed their roles together in June at La Scala. Grigolo has
also sung Hoffmann and scored an enormous success as Des Grieux in his Covent
Garden debut.

Machaidze was a charming Juliet, though her voice, noticeably edgier than in
her Salzburg Juliet, was occasionally shrill at the top. Grigolo, known in his
youth in Italy as il Pavarottini, has a dark robust almost baritonal
voice with a gravelly buzz in mid range that opens to a clarion clarity at the
top. Slim and handsome, he is also remarkably agile and scaled the gates and
ladders keeping him from his beloved with the litheness of a cat burglar.

RJb6354-1.gifVladimir Chernov as Capulet and Nino Machaidze as Juliette, with Ronnita Nicole Miller (in black) as Juliette’s Nurse, and Daniel Armstrong (at right, in rear) as Count Paris

Museup Kim as Mercutio and RenÈe Rapier, making an unexpected LA opera debut
as Stephano, were outstanding in this large cast. Vitalij Kowaljow was a
sonorous Friar Laurence. Alexey Sayapin debuted as Tybalt. Baritone Vladimir
Chernov sang the thankless role of Count Capulet, and Ronnita Nicole Miller had
little to sing about as Juliette’s nurse.

Maestro Domingo’s conducting, while responsive to Gounod’s long
melodic lines, whether instrumental or vocal, lacked the rhythmic thrust that
keeps a repeated waltz beat buoyant. Perhaps his rehearsal time was limited.
But no one cared. With the production staff, performers, conductor and chorus
on stage, and the energetic Grigolo pulling them forward for yet another bow,
all was love Sunday afternoon at the Los Angeles opera.

Estelle Gilson

image_description=Nino Machaidze as Juliette and Vittorio Grigolo as Romeo [Photo by Robert Millard for LA Opera]
product_title=Charles Gounod: RomÈo et Juliette
product_by=Romeo: Vittorio Grigolo; Juliet: Nino Machaidze; Mercutio: Meseup Kim; Friar Laurence: Vitalij Kowaljow; Lord Capulet: Vladimir Chernov; Tybalt: Alexey Sayapin; The Duke of Verona: Philip Cokorinos; Stephano: RenÈe Rapier; The Nurse: Ronnita Nicole Miller; Gregorio: Michael Dean; Benvolio: Ben Bliss; Count Paris: Daniel Armstrong; Friar John:Erik Anstine. Conductor: Placido Domingo. Director: Ian Judge. Scenic Designer: John Gunter. Costume Designer: Tim Goodchild. Lighting Designer: Nigel Levings.
product_id=Above: Nino Machaidze as Juliette and Vittorio Grigolo as Romeo

Photos by Robert Millard for LA Opera