Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 30
 
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
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(Photo by Jeff Reeder for NJOpera)
FATED LOVERS: Scott Ramsay as Roméo, left, is appearing opposite Manon Strauss Evrard as Juliette in New Jersey Opera's production of Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" at McCarter's Berlind Theatre. The opera will be repeated this Saturday, July 28 at 8 p.m. in the Berlind Theatre.

New Jersey Opera Sets the Night on Fire With Timeless Love Story “Roméo et Juliette”

Nancy Plum

Opera at the time of French composer Charles Gounod drew its literary inspiration from the great works. Verdi turned to Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, and Gounod, who claims two operatic masterpieces, turned to William Shakespeare’s timeless love story for his 1867 Roméo et Juliette. Opulence and elegance were the words for the day in mid-19th century Paris, but the New Jersey Opera production of Roméo et Juliette (in French with English subtitles), which opened on Friday night, fit snugly into the Berlind Theatre at the McCarter Theatre complex. Not often performed (Friday night’s performance was apparently the New Jersey professional premiere), the production gave audiences plenty to enjoy.

This opera came during an era which ushered in the tremendous melodies of opera, but Gounod did not neglect the great fugue tradition of the Baroque era or the coloratura fireworks of the Classical stage. Director Marc Verzatt noted that this opera glowed with “volupté de vivre” — a sensuous voluptuousness of life and love. No one brought this concept more to life than soprano Manon Strauss Evrard, who sang the role of Juliette with fire, sensuality, and coquettishness from the start. A native of France and an international award winner many times over, Ms. Evrard has a solid track record of tragic heroines, and she launched into the role of Juliette from the beginning with solid command of both the music and the language, with a sauciness that made her coloratura exciting. Ms. Evrard sang with a very forward sound and fast vibrato — a sound that would not be everyone’s cup of tea, but which was perfectly suited for the poignant French text and lush music. Ms. Evrard also perfect looked the part, drumming up a suf- ficient amount of flirtatiousness and attitude (bordering on brattiness with her nurse) as she lured in her Roméo.

"Roméo et Juliette" will be performed on Saturday, July 28. For ticket information call 609-258-2787.

Roméo et Juliette was composed more than ten years before Verdi’s La Traviata, but the structure of the first act is almost identical, with its requisite party scene and conflict-ridden duet between the star-crossed lovers. Roméo was described in the Director’s Notes as “a brooder and a thinker,” and tenor Scott Ramsay brought out these characteristics well. Looking a bit older than Shakespeare might have envisioned, Mr. Ramsay was a pensive and thoughtful singer, performing with greater ease as the opera went on. This opera wasted no time — by the end of the first scene Roméo and Juliette were inexplicably in love, and Mr. Ramsay’s interpretation of the unchangeable fatality of the opera was especially well controlled in the second act.

As Mercutio, baritone Stephen Lavonier displayed a good strong voice and kept up extremely well with the language. French is not the easiest language in which to sing, and these singers all manipulated well the quick tempi and lively spirit of the music.

Mezzo-soprano Sara Fanucchi was sufficiently maternal and held the volatile Juliette together well, portraying the heroine’s nurse, a character that appears frequently in operas of this time period. Paying tribute to the preceding century, Gounod added a pants role to his opera in the character of Stephano, a page to Roméo, and soprano Nina Yoshida Curran sang this role solidly. James Barbato set up conflict scenes well between Roméo and Juliette as a Capulet nephew.

Although this opera arose from the Grand Opera tradition in France that is usually associated with the extravagance of 19th century Paris, simplicity was the key to this production. A core set of columns and architectural frames stayed in place (around which revolved amusingly moving trees), and such key features as Juliette’s balcony were moved off and on the stage.

The lushness of the music belied its internal complexity, and the intimacy of the Berlind Theatre enabled the audience to hear the intricate instrumentation. Conductor Steven Mosteller kept the orchestra tightly under control, enabling sectional solo lines (such as the rich viola and cello lines that frequently occurred) to come forth. A chorus well-trained by José Meléndez demonstrated very clean entrances in a cappella choruses, as well as handling some tricky tuning issues.

Roméo et Juliette may be a bit long as evenings out go, but if one wants to feel as though they have gotten their money’s worth from a night at the opera, this production is the place to be.

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