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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Opera Review: Roméo is Sleeping

Roméo et Juliette at the Met
Piotr Beczala and Hei-Kyung Hong
at the rehearsal of Roméo et Juliette.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera
Monday night's performance of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera featured strong performances from tenor Piotr Beczala and soprano Hei-Kyung Hong in an otherwise unexciting revival of the Shakespearean opera.

This revival has already made headlines for the 11th-hour withdrawal of soprano Angela Gheorghiu. Her replacement was Hei-Kyung Hong. The 51-year old Korean soprano may be a little older than Shakespeare's 14-year old Juliette, but she sang boldly, going up for the high notes in Juliette's Waltz even though her voice thinned noticeably at the top.

As the performance continued (and her voice warmed up) Ms. Hong displayed the soprano warmth and bloom that has made her a longtime fixture at the Met. She was strong in the difficult fourth act, with the long "floating bed" duet with Piotr Beczala, followed by the difficult Potion Scene. Her onstage collapse the dramatic climax of the evening.

Tenor Piotr Beczala was a bluff, enthusiastic Roméo, singing with ardor in the balcony scene and generating real chemistry with his leading lady on the floating bed that is the setting for their Act IV duet. However, he looked lost in the Act III fight scene, standing about without any direction after killing Tybalt, as if the director failed to give him any directions at that point in the opera.

The biggest surprise of the evening was James Morris in the brief, but memorable role of Friar Laurence. The Met's former Wotan sounded ideal in this paternal role, using his woolly, well-oiled bass voice to give gravity to the priest's scenes in Acts III and IV. Mr. Morris has had some rough outings at the Met lately, but this short part was well suited to his fading fach.

Guy Joosten's staging uses the plays Renaissance setting and the idea of star-crossed lovers for a production that combines astrolabes, clocks, trompe l'oeil paintings and the streets of Olde Verona. Occasionally, the back wall cracks open to reveal cosmic landscapes, more suited to the work of Carl Sagan than Shakespeare. These ultimately prove distracting, although the "flying bed" duet remains a theatrical coup.

The performance was undermined by the conducting of tenor-turned-maestro Plàcido Domingo, which lacked that degree of lift that can make Gounod's melodic lines soar. That, combined with the librettists' decision to boil almost all the fight scenes and much of the excitement from Shakespeare's play  made for a long evening. But that's not the Met's fault.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.