Vancouver Opera

Romeo et Juliette

Music by Charles-Francois Gounod

Libretto by Jules Barbier & Michel Carre

At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

January 30, February 2, 4 and 6 at 8:00 p.m.

by Ed Farolan

This is the first time I've gone to an opera that's three and a half hours long and still wanting more.  This opera is a show-stopper.  It's lush, extravagant, spectacular, and Vancouver Opera, despite all its financial troubles, seems to say:  "We're alive and kicking.  See this show as proof!"

American soprano Karen Driscoll is just beautiful not only as the young Juliette, but her voice reaches notes so high my ear drums almost burst.  David Miller as the dashing Romeo hit those tenor notes just as if they were his own.  I just couldn't believe how, in many occasions, he was singing those notes so magnificently while lying down on his back!

Others in the cast who did wonderful performances included Vancouver's Mezzo-soprano, Grace Chan as Gertrude, Juliette's nurse, who put some humour in her role; petite Mezzo-Soprano, Mariateresa Magisano of Monteal as Stephano, Romeo's page, receiving a warm applause after her aria in Act III; Canadian baritone John Fanning as Romeo's friend, Mercutio; Vancouver-based bass Gary Relyea as Friar Lawrence; Canadian tenor John Tessier as the fiery Tybalt; baritone Brian Nickel as Capulet; baritone Gregory Dahl as Gregorio; baritone Willy Grenzberg as Paris; tenor James McLennan as Benvolio; and baritone Michael Collins as the Duke of Verona. And of course, kudos to the VO chorus for their supporting role.

The action, including an extravagant masked ball with acrobats, a fire eater, and sword-slashing duels, was well choreographed by Artistic Director of L'Opera de Montreal, Bernard Uzan. The sets were just spectacular, and the costumes--the moody blues and violets for the Montagues, contrasting against the bright reddish orange and beige for the Capulets--were designed by Usan's collaborator Claude Girard .

VO Music Director David Agler did a fantastic job with his orchestra.  I was hoping, though, that some music was played in-between the 2 or 3 minute scene changes just to fill that uncomfortable gap of waiting for the next scene/costume change.

Charles Francois Gounod (1818-1893) was one of many composers in the 19th century whose works were based on Shakespeare's dramas because of new translations by writers like Laroche, Michel and Hugo. These French romantics adapted the Bard's texts transforming his universal themes of romanticism into musical settings.  Oftentimes, they improved on Shakespeare's texts. Gounod's rendition, in my opinion, of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet far surpassed the romantic quality of the bard's original text.  Take, for example, the death scene where Shakespeare's Romeo, upon seeing Juliet dead, kills himself. Thus, when Juliet awakens, Romeo is already dead, and she then kills herself.  In Gounod's interpretation, Romeo drinks the poison and as he dies, Juliet awakens, and they still are able to sing their dying words of everlasting love to each other.  I found this las scene really touching, when Romeo finally dies and Juliet stabs herself, desiring one last kiss from him which never comes.  Now, why didn't Shakespeare think of this?  I guess only a true romantic, and obviously, a French romantic like Gounod, could imagine a Romeo and Juliet death scene to end this way.

Another thing that impressed me about Gounod's opera is he takes Shakespeare's epilogue and puts it in the prologue, which, in my view, was an excellent juxtaposition, capturing the audience's interest, from the start,  to the sad tale of Romeo and Juliet.

This opera was first produced at Theatre Lyrique, Paris on April 27, 1867 and first produced by the Vancouver Opera on March 13, 1982.