Fathom Events' Met Opera's "Romeo & Juliet": Death Becomes Them

Diana Damrau & Vittorio Grigolo in "Romeo et Juliette"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

Romeo et Juliette, presented by the Metropolitan Opera, is a work that is regaining popularity with audiences after a period of benign neglect. With music by Charles Gounod (generally considered his finest work) and a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, the 1867 opera's story follows fairly faithfully the familiar Shakespearean tale of the two titular lovers. It is best known for four duets for its principal singers as well as Juliette's waltz song Je veux vivre.

The brief Prologue, sung by The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, introduces the story of the perennial feud between the Capulet and Montague families in Verona (updated from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century). The first act then takes place at a masked ball at the Capulet Palace where Tybalt (tenor Diego Silva) awaits the arrival of his cousin Juliette (soprano Diana Damrau), telling her potential suitor Paris (bass-baritone David Crawford) he'll be overwhelmed by her beauty. She is led in by her father Capulet (bass-baritone Laurent Naouri). Soon after the dancing begins, Romeo (tenor Vittorio Grigolo), a member of the Montague family, enters with his friends Mercutio (baritone Elliot Madore) and Benvolio (tenor Tony Stevenson). Romeo and Juliette fall in love at first sight. Tybalt recognizes Romeo as he leaves, though masked, but is restrained by Capulet and his servant Gregorio (bass-baritone Jeongcheol Cha) from following him. Later, in the courtyard beneath Juliette's balcony, Romeo declares his love for Juliette who returns the fervor. After a brief interruption by her servants, they vow to marry. Still later, in the cell of Frere Laurent (bass Mikhail Petrenko), Romeo, Juliette and her nurse Gertrude (mezzo Diana Montague) are told by the good friar that he will marry them, in hopes of ending the family feud. Soon after, in the street, Stephano (mezzo Virginie Verrez), Romeo's page, sings a mocking song that results in a swordfight in which Tybalt first kills Mercutio, after which Romeo stabs Tybalt and is banished by the Duke of Verona (bass Oren Gradus). Some time later, Romeo and Juliette spend their secret wedding night together, and she forgives him for killing one of her family. After Romeo leaves to go into exile, Capulet informs Juliette that she is to marry Paris immediately. Desperate, she swallows a sleeping potion (given her by Frere Laurent) which will make her appear dead. Romeo arrives at the tomb of the Capulets and, believing his beloved dead, drinks poison. She awakens and, to join him forever, stabs herself, as they both die praying for forgiveness.

The Production by Bartlett Sher, first presented at Salzburg in 2008, is a very theatrical one, befitting Sher's Broadway experience (his recent “Fiddler on the Roof” ended its run just as this operatic version premiered). His pairing of the matinee-idol handsome Grigolo and lovely Damrau, with their undeniable chemistry, was a definite plus as they literally sang themselves to death with consummate lyricism. Also, as Sher noted in an intermission interview, they both move very well. Damrau was every inch a teenager with childlike gestures and activism, and Grigolo was pure athleticism as he scaled the walls to Juliette's balcony. The rest of the cast was equally fine, notably Naouri and Montague as the adults in the room. Madore did gnaw on the scenery a bit, but it's a role that pretty much forgives this sort of thing.

The score was impressively Conducted by Gianandrea Noseda (his first time with this work), with Scenic Design by Michael Yeargan, lovely Costume Design by Catherine Zuber, Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton (too often way too dark to see the chorus) and Choreography by Chase Brock, with Chorus Master Donald Palumbo leading the always dependable Met Opera Chorus. The HD Host was Ailyn Perez and HD Director was Gary Halvorson.

It was a grand night (or afternoon) for singing, even if (spoiler here) all doesn't end well.
Fathom Events Encore HD presentation on Wednesday January 25 at 6:30pm at a theater near you.

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