A few months ago, Opéra de Montréal had its audience experiencing 20th century Texas in a production that included cheerleaders, neon lights, and a visit to the moon; now, for their season finale, they’re taking it back to 15th-century fair Verona. And this is the Verona you know and love, with stage director Tom Diamond and designer Claude Girard offering a highly traditional take on the classic love story.
Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, which was first performed in 1867, is a fairly faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. The libretto includes many of the play’s iconic quotes, such as a translated “wherefore art thou Romeo,” but there are some notable omissions as well — no one wonders if a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Perhaps the most significant change occurs in the final act, as the opera sees Juliette awaken before Romeo has died. This allows them to share one final duet before Romeo succumbs to the poison he swallowed earlier.
In staging a story as popular as Romeo and Juliet, there can be pressure to do something “new” in the production. At this point, it seems refreshing to witness a more historic take on the story, without any bold decisions detracting from the true star of this opera: Gounod’s beautiful, sweeping melodies, and the excellent voices of the production’s soloists.
The opening night performance started on an interesting note, as an announcement informed the audience that soprano Marie-Ève Munger, who would be singing the role of Juliette, would go on with the performance despite being unwell. The beginning of the first act also exhibited some signs of strain as the chorus struggled to remain in time with the orchestra. But all was soon well as Munger sang the opera’s most famous aria, “Je veux vivre.” Despite the earlier announcement, she seemed in excellent voice, if perhaps a little quiet. Hers is certainly the standout performance, and especially as the story begins to take its darker turn and Juliette sings through her fears. Both Munger and Spanish tenor Ismael Jordi offered beautiful performances as the titular couple, showcasing not only their vocal talent, but acting ability as well. The final scene in the tomb was performed with genuine devastation, which is essential if the story is to carry any true emotional resonance for an audience that is likely overly familiar with the it already.
Mezzo-soprano Alexandra Beley, while not given ample opportunity to showcase her voice, is a scene stealer in the comedic role of Juliette’s nurse Gertrude. Alain Coulombe is a warm and paternal Friar Lawrence (or Frère Laurent).
Sets and costumes were designed to varying effect by Claude Girard. While the outdoor setting for the balcony scene featured a gorgeous forest of trees, indoor scenes were marred by giant open windows that looked out onto a blank background, causing the stage to look bare. The costumes were period-accurate, and the use of different colours to distinguish Montagues from Capulets (red and blue) was an excellent visual tool for the audience. This colourful distinction was also used to great effect as Romeo and Juliette were married, with Juliette sporting a blue dress covered by a red cloak, a union of the two house colours.
Overall, Roméo et Juliette doesn’t seem to want to do anything “new”; it’s content with letting the piece itself be the star of this production. This isn’t the last time we’ll be seeing Romeo and Juliet this summer in Montreal, as Repercussion Theatre is staging it for their 2018 Shakespeare in the Park tour. With their “love is love” concept, it can be certain that this will be a very different take on the story. And perhaps this versatility is part of the beauty of the classic story—there’s a version of Romeo and Juliet for everyone’s tastes. For now, Roméo et Juliette lets the music and the story take centre stage in this beautiful, conventional production.
L’Opéra de Montréal presents Charles Gounod’s
Roméo et Juliette
When: May 19th, 22nd, 24th and 26th, 2018
Venue: Place des Arts, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier
(175 Saint-Catherine St. W, Montreal, H2X 3X5)
Language: French (with French and English subtitles)
Duration: 3 hours (with 2 intermissions)
Admission: $56.75 – 144.75
Box Office: (514) 985.2258 | www.operademontreal.com