“Romeo and Juliet” at the SF Opera

“Romeo and Juliet” at SF Opera

Carol Benet

Not since 1988 has the San Francisco Opera produced Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” although previously  there have been a half-a-dozen other productions here. Currently Jean-Louis Grinda directs this work that originated with two opera companies, Teatro  Carlo Felice and Opéra de Monaco.  It perfectly replicates the feeling of Renaissance Verona, the site and time of the famous story. 

Super-star soprano Nadine Sierra, who has performed all over the world including the  Metropolitan Opera, beautifully sings Juliet and the wonderful tenor Pene Pati is Romeo. Pati was scheduled for only the October 1 performance along with his wife, fellow New Zealander Amina Edris,  but he has stepped into all performances because the original singer for Romeo, Bryan Hymel, has resigned for personal reasons.

The ill-starred lovers in this operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘“Romeo and Juliet” are a bit older than the Bard wrote them.  Instead of Shakespeare’s 13 year old Juliet, here she is 16 but she is still as frivolous and playful as intended with her bouncy, smiley interpretation.  Romeo is also young and exhibits a bit of youthful awkwardness in his new passion.   Twice the librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré remind us that Romeo had a previous girlfriend Roselind with whom he was madly love until he saw Juiiet and all of a sudden in a “coup de foudre” Romeo and Juliet fall in love.  

The opera opens with an exciting overture played by the SF Opera Orchestra in fine form and excellently conducted by Yves Abel.  The sweeping  music foretells of the tragedy in minor keyed resonance.  It ends in an intricate Baroque fugue.  Then the chorus, so well conducted as usual by Ian Robertson, tells the story of the two feuding families.  One  delicate part is sung with only a harp accompaniment.  

Then we are in the ball scene in the palace of the Capulets in celebration of Juliet’s birthday.  The bubbly Juliet makes it clear that she does not want to follow her father’s wishes to become betrothed to Paris (Hadleigh Adams).  Amidst all the commotion, four couples of ballet dancers (choreographerLawrence Pech) almost get lost in all the movement.  Two masked intruders sneak in.  We can always keep track of the two sides of the feud because the darkr costumes belong to the Montagues  and the bright reds to the Capulets. (costumes by Carola Volles).  

From the moment that Romeo and Juliet see each other, the fate of the story is well-known by members of audience who have attended the Shakespeare play, Prokofiev’s ballet or Gounod’s opera.  The “catharsis” that takes place after the tragic ending comes because the audience is familiar with the story and through the process of witnessing it, is able to cleanse its emotions, release the building tension and go away feeling satisfied.  This is how “catharsis” works according to Aristotle.   ******Editor:  please leave PP  in.

Eric Chevalier’s sets are fitting and fresh, especially in Juliet’s garden where he has substituted a long ramp for the standard balcony from which Juliet sings “Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou?”.  His bedroom scene is spectacular with only a very long white drape hanging from the rafters to define the intimate space.  In this production,  the libretto remains in French with English supertitles. Roberto Venturi’s lighting appropriately changes from the  brightness of the ball to the dark tomb scene.

The current cast is filled with graduates of the Merola and Adler programs .Graduates are  cast members here are Lucas Meachem who also performed the role of Mercutio at the Metropolitan Opera.  Daniel Montenegro (Tybalt), James Creswell ( Friar Lawrence), Seokjong Baek (Gregorio), Philip Skinnerr ( Duke of Verona) and Hadleigh Adam ( Paris) plus the principals Sierra and Patii as well as Amina Edris who plays Juliet to her husband Pati’s Romeo on October 1.  This is a fine example of the importance of our SF Opera training programs to the future of the the art of opera.

“Romeo and Juliet” runs at the SF Opera through October 1, 2019.  


About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →