Georgina Benison is enthralled by Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, at the Royal Opera House Muscat.
Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette could be conceived as being an oddity in the operatic canon.
It is produced perhaps less frequently than it ought to be despite its popularity in the 19th century.
Therefore, it was fitting that it should kick off the Royal Opera House Muscat’s new season, entitled Excellence In Diversity.
Everyone has heard of Shakepeare’s work: two families at war in fair Verona, and the tragedy that results after the two protagonists fall in love.
With a nod to the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, Opera de Monte-Carlo offered the Royal Opera House Muscat its take on the classic, and played to packed houses on all three nights.
And no wonder, this was a superb interpretation of Gounod’s masterpiece.
Under the the youthful yet highly accomplished baton of Laurent Campellone, the soloists and chorus were accompanied by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo.
With a set that simply but effectively evoked 16th century Verona, we were transported back to a Renaissance-era world of love, vengeance and destiny.
The story is well-known; the music less so but Gounod’s opera stays close to the original play.
Lead tenor Jean-Francois Borras, as Romeo, projected a hearty breadth of dynamic expression, particularly in his ability to captivate the audience while singing almost quietly (heard first in his cavatina on the balcony scene).
Borras started out as a cashier at Monte Carlo Casino. Now, as a lyrical, expressive tenor he is now performing on all the world’s greatest opera stages
The soprano who was to play Juliette for the middle evening’s performance was indisposed so Nino Machaidze, the brilliant Georgian soprano, performed on all three nights in the title role. But Nino is no ordinary prima donna. She has an expansive soprano that resonates as effortlessy in the coloratura range (in the delightfully naïve arietta-waltz, Je veux vivre in Act One) as it does in the dark, dramatic register.
Impossibly beautiful and utterly credible as coy teenager Juliette, Nino held the audience spellbound. The chemistry generated with the less-than-boyish Borras was nonetheless palpable as the star-crossed lovers played out their ill-fated affair.
In a Cherubino-like twist, the role of Romeo’s page, Stephano, was sung brilliantly and convincingly by mezzo-soprano Carine Sechaye.
And the versatile voice of Jean Teitgen as Frere Laurent endowed gravity to the marriage scene as well as sympathy for the two ill-fated lovers.
The opera ends with the deaths of Romeo and Juliette, not with the elegy from the Prince of Verona, as in the play. I was glad about this; it said enough.
They say that tragedies are somehow uplifting. This was more than that: it was cathartic and I left the theatre feeling refreshed, and humming with a sense of serenity and peace.