The Metropolitan Opera – Bartlett Sher’s production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette – Vittorio Grigolo & Diana Damrau; conducted by Gianandrea Noseda

Roméo et Juliette – Opera in five Acts to a libretto by Jules Barbier & Michel Carré based on Shakespeare’s play [sung in French with Met English titles by Cori Ellison]

Roméo – Vittorio Grigolo
Juliette – Diana Damrau
Frère Laurent – Mikhail Petrenko
Stéphano – Virginie Verrez
Mercutio – Elliot Madore
Benvolio – Tony Stevenson
Gertrude – Diana Montague
Capulet – Laurent Naouri
Tybalt – Diego Silva
Paris – David Crawford
Grégorio – Jeongcheol Cha
Duke of Verona – Oren Gradus

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Gianandrea Noseda

Bartlett Sher – Production
Michael Yeargan – Set Designer
Catherine Zuber – Costume Designer
Jennifer Tipton – Lighting Designer
Chase Brock – Choreographer
B. H. Barry – Fight Director

Reviewed by: Christopher Browner

Reviewed: 10 January, 2017
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York City

A scene from Bartlett Sher's new production of Gounod's Roméo et JuliettePhotograph: Brescia/AmisanoBartlett Sher’s new staging offers an ingenious take on Charles Gounod’s perfumed Romeo et Juliette (1867), one of the Met’s best productions of the past decade.

The action is updated to 18th-century Verona, Shakespeare’s timeless if tragic love-story playing out in the courtyard outside a sumptuous palazzo. Sher demonstrates that a straightforward approach still has the power to communicate.

Michael Yeargan’s scenery is grandly traditional and the action never feels stiff or old-fashioned, and at every moment Sher’s approach grows out of Gounod’s lush music. Jennifer Tipton’s evocative lighting and Catherine Zuber’s elegant costuming further enhance the overall effect.

The Metropolitan Opera's production of Gounod's Roméo et JulietteVittorio Grigolo as Roméo and Diana Damrau as JuliettePhotograph: Ken HowardWe are fortunate to have two singers in the title roles that exude magnetic charm and authentic chemistry. It is easy to believe in the love between Vittorio Grigolo’s ardent Romeo and Diana Damrau’s flirtatious Juliet from first sight to final kiss.

Grigolo is a born stage animal and brings every ounce of energy he can muster to his performance. His gestures may be exaggerated, but they lend his characterization an endearing honesty that perfectly conveys the bliss of nascent infatuation. While his enthusiasm often leads him to over-sing, pushing out top notes and putting strain on his naturally sunny timbre, this unrefined vocalism in fact complements his heartfelt portrayal, and his impassioned singing of ‘Ah! lève-toi, soleil!’ under Juliet’s balcony was the evening’s musical highlight.

Damrau shared such enchanting charisma and her voice has gained increased depth and complexity over recent years, the soprano giving vent to Juliet’s lush lyricism while maintaining agility and clarity. She likewise approached Juliet’s youthful passion with reckless abandon and lost herself entirely in the moving ‘Poison’ aria.

Gianandrea Noseda supported these vivid interpretations with a strong hand and striking musicality, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra elevating Gounod’s Romantic melodies to symphonic heights, drawing out a range of hues and textures. The work’s violence resounded in rich brass and timpani while the couple’s sensuality blossomed in plush strings and delicate woodwinds.

The Metropolitan Opera's production of Gounod's Roméo et JulietteVittorio Grigolo as RoméoPhotograph: Ken HowardAmong the other singers, Virginie Verrez brought a flexible mezzo to the page Stéphano while Mikhail Petrenko sang with a nasal, sometime-gruff bass as Friar Laurence. Laurent Naouri made for a resolute Capulet and Elliot Madore’s virile tone and sexy confidence worked well for the swaggering Mercutio. He and Diego Silva, as Tybalt, also exhibited great athleticism in a daring sword-fight expertly choreographed.

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus was an impactful force, singing joyfully in the opening party scene and contributing weight to imposing ensemble numbers. As staging-trends today increasingly favor conceptual abstract retellings of operatic tales, it is encouraging that we can be still riveted by Sher’s time-honored offering.

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