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Saturday, December 24, 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. It arrives at the Met on New Year's Eve.

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, which is so far from the original German that it is performed in Germanic countries as Marguerite.) It is a straightforward retelling of the story, with gorgeous numbers for tenor, soprano and 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 teenage son and daughter of the houses of Montegue and Capulet, warring families  in the Italian town of Verona. Their love inflames the tension between the two houses, and results in the deaths of a number of peripheral characters, and finally the double suicide of the lovers. However, their deaths mark 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 will be 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, with a special 6:30 start time because there's a gala afterward. 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 his Juliette on this studio recording was 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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