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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Roméo et Juliette

Charles Castronovo and Ailyn Perez are Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Everybody onstage: the masquerade ball from Roméo et Juliette.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The news is that tenor Bryan Hymel has withdrawn from this run of Romeo et Juliette, the evergreen Charles Gounod adaptation of Shakespeare's play. Charles Castronovo is his replacement, but he's been replaced by Andrea Shin in a plague that seems to only affect members of the House of Montague.  Ailyn Perez, fresh off a mostly successful run in the Massenet chestnut Thaïs, is his Juliet. Placido Domingo conducts this first revival of the Met's staging by Bart Sher.
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?
This year's cast features two of the current generation of singers as the young lovers. This cast was originally supposed to feature tenor Bryan Hymel in the male lead, but he has cancelled due to illness. Mr. Castronovo is his replacement. For the premiere, Andrea Shin will make his met debut as Romeo. Ailyn Perez has an agile stage presence and the charm and charisma to pull off Juliette. Placido Domingo conductos, again fulfilling the clause that is still written into his Met contract.

How's the production?
This staging is designed not for the devotees in the opera house but for those omnipresent Live in HD cameras. Here, fair Verona is a towering, dull-gray shallow set, populated by  bright carnival costumes that "pop" on the movie screen. From the opening image, a rainbow of elaborately dressed "Veronese" choristers arrayed across the lip of the Met stage, the whole exercise seemed at once familiar and academic: Shakespeare by a very conservative book.

When does Roméo et Juliette open?
This revival opens on April 23.

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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