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Friday, August 26, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Roméo et Juliette

"A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life..."
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Publicity photo of Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo as Juliette and her Roméo.
Photo by Kristian Schuller for the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met unveils a new take on Shakespeare's classic story of doomed young love, with Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau singing Charles Gounod's gorgeous music. This new production by Bart Sher was first seen at Salzburg and La Scala.

What is Roméo et Juliette?
Charles Gounod's adaptation of Shakespeare's play is one of his two best-known operas. (The other is his version of Faust.) It is a straightforward retelling of the story, with gorgeous numbers for tenor, soprano and of course an epic love duet that lasts an entire act.

What's the story?
Shakespeare's play chronicles the ill-fated love of Romeo and Juliet, the son and daughter of the houses of Montegue and Capulet, warring factions in the Italian town of Verona. Their love inflames the tension between the two houses, and results in considerable collateral damage, the death of both lovers and ultimately the end of the pointless feud.

Who's in it?
The first cast reunites Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau, who burned up the stage last season in Massenet's Manon. In the March run of the opera, South African sensation Pretty Yende takes the stage opposite tenor Stephen Costello. Gianandrea Noseda conducts the January run of shows, and is replaced by Emmanuel Villaume in March.

How's the production?
In a 2008 interview, director Barlett Sher said: "My inspiration for the staging came from Patrice Chéreau´s film Bartholomeus Night," referencing the late French director whose production of Elektra gripped the Met last season, The costumes were inspired by (Federico) Fellini´s
Casanova. I intend(ed) to show Romeo and Juliet's innocence in a decadent world...after each period of decadence a catastophe occurs before a new development may begin." In other words, expect fancy costumes and a production updating the action from the Renaissance to the 18th century.

When does Roméo et Juliette open?
This new production bows on Dec. 31. That's right, New Year's Eve. (Beats the hell out of Times Square.) The second cast takes over in the March revival, which opens March 3. The Live in HD broadcast is Jan. 21 with a 12:55pm start time.

Where do I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recordings do you recommend?
There are a number of Roméo recordings in the catalogue, and many of them starring big singers have serious flaws in casting. Here are two safe recommendations.

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus cond. Emil Cooper (Sony, 1947, released 2010)
Fans of French opera have long known about this famous Feb. 1, 1947 broadcast recording which paired Swedish super-tenor Jussi Björling with Brazilian diva Bidú Sayão. This classic set, recorded from the stage of the old Met, is a welcome arrival in the catalogue.

Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse cond. Michel Plasson (EMI Classics, 1998)
Roberto Alagna always sounds better when singing in French. Here, he tackles the role of Shakespeare's ardent young lover. His performance is all the more convincing because he is wooing Angela Gheorghiu, his wife at the time. Their chemistry drives this set. Michel Plasson offers his usual, expert interpretation of Gounod.
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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.