Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Roméo et Juliette: L'heure s'envole

I went to the second performance of the current run of Roméo et Juliette at the Met, and found it overflowing with charm, but rather lacking in sustained tension, erotic or otherwise.  Vocally, though, I was quite impressed; according to seat neighbors, things were more solid on that front than on the first night.  Guy Joosten's production, frankly, did nothing for me.  I like a perspective drawing or a constellation map as much as (well, probably more than) the next person, but "It's the Renaissance!" strikes me as insufficient for a driving production idea.  The firmament was also very present, echoing the motifs of the libretto, but not in a visually consistent way; elegant maps and models ("It's the Renaissance!") were supplemented by Space Age photographs, mostly of nebulae, on the back wall.  Then there was a solar eclipse, and then there was something resembling an Escher drawing.  I don't know what it was supposed to be doing there... possibly representing that violence leads nowhere.  But we knew that already.

To be honest, I was more impressed with Plácido Domingo's work on the podium than I expected to be.  There was attention to dynamic nuance, and it had the great virtue of being emotionally immediate, dripping with romanticism, but also capable of reverential tenderness.  Eroticism and suspense, however, I did not feel.  There was surprisingly little foreboding.  My predominant feeling about the lovers (and to judge by the audience giggles and sighs, I was not alone) was "Oh, they're so cute!" rather than "Oh, they're so doomed!"  If this is fault, I'm not laying it at Domingo's door: the color-saturated production was also fairly doom-free (eclipse and Escher drawing notwithstanding) and the directing emphasized the lovers' youth, their astonished, unabashed delight in each other, their absolute absorption in their own emotional odyssey.  The singing was of a fine standard.  Julie Boulianne was a vocally confident Stephano, Lucas Meachem a dramatically assured Mercutio.  I found his tone rather rough, but he sang strongly and inhabited the role well.  Wendy White was her usual excellent self as the Nurse.  Dwayne Croft sang Capulet with both authority and lyricism; he managed to make the character complex as well.  (Confession: the moment of the night when I teared up was not at the end, but when Capulet holds the supposedly-dead Juliette in his arms and mourns her.  He may treat her marriage like a transaction--it's the Renaissance--but after all, he's her daddy! Sniff!)  Much to my delight, James Morris was Frère Laurent.  He was in fine vocal form and the role seemed to suit his voice well; he shaped melodic lines well, and gave a dramatically nuanced portrayal.

Piotr Beczala was, vocally and dramatically, a sympathetic and persuasive Roméo (the fact that he's kind of adorable hurts, of course, not at all.)  I could happily dwell on the dramatic details of his ardent yet easily abashed lover, but I'll give one example: when he first catches sight of Juliette, he is obviously, demonstratively enchanted, openly rapturous when she departs... but reflexively hides when she reappears, slumping down to make sure he's concealed while remaining visibly alert to her movements.  Aww... I've been there, done that.  His singing, also, was tender and stylish, with compelling forte outbursts where needed.  I was a little anxious for his high notes, but he carried them all splendidly until the final duet, with a crack on the high C (quickly overcome.)  A shame, but the rest of the performance was of such superlative quality that I didn't feel it was seriously marred.  Hei-Kyung Hong was equally touching as Juliette, convincing both in girlish glee and the depths of teenage despair.  Her voice may not be perfectly fresh, but it is both sweet and astonishingly agile.  Her technique was so secure that Juliette's dizzying music never seemed like mere display, but radiantly expressive.  So, with all these vocal achievements, and the fine acting from both the principals, why didn't it quite ignite for me?  I'm not sure whether this is to be attributed to Gounod, the production, the conducting, the singing, or some combination of all these, but here's my speculation.  Roméo and Juliette were touching and believable as a pair of adolescent lovers.  But--even after the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, even after the wedding night, even in death--they never grew up.


  1. Dear Lucy
    I also saw this performance on the first night. I agree with most of your excellent text. On the night I was at the Met, both main singers had bad moments - Hong had a terrible start and Beczala cracked the top note at the final of Act III, but otherwise throughout the performance they were good. The only point in with I have a different opinion from yours is in Domingo's direction. It did not help the singers and there were some inconstancies within the orchestra (and we are speaking of one of the best in the world).
    As you say, not a magic performance, but a pleasant night at the opera.
    Regards from Portugal

  2. Do you think the score might have had anything to do with your impression of superficiality? I totally agree with your assessment of the production (though I saw it back with Trebs a while ago) but the music isn't a very deep or tense treatment of the material either.

  3. @FanaticoUm I'm sorry you ended up on a night with vocal difficulties. Mine is, admittedly, an optimist's report of Domingo's conducting, but I thought pacing and balance seemed decent. I didn't pick up on any missed cues, although it's also true that the orchestra didn't shine at its radiant best. Thanks for stopping by!

    @Zerbinetta It's true that part of me may be subconsciously desiring Prokoviev! But even though there isn't much development of suspense in Gounod's music, I think/hope there's more to be found in it in the way of yearning, at least, and maybe even conflict, than I got the other night. You may be right, though, and I may be listening for something that's not really there.

  4. Aw. The woman wears pink and the man blue. Why didn't anybody else think of that before?

  5. @DTO: Ha! I know, groan-inducing. The color scheme was Capulet/Montague, not just R&J, but still. And they were both in white on the wedding night. Ah, symbolism.


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