Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Gounod Roméo et Juliette Beczala

In many ways, Charles Gounod's Roméo et Juliette is more musical than opera. Everyone knows the story and no-one can compete with Shakespeare as dramatist. So Gounod wisely focuses on big musical showpieces. Which is why the opera's reputation is based on stellar performances, of which there are many. Last night at the Royal Opera House, Piotr Beczala sang a remarkable Roméo, beautifully toned yet with genuine personality. He's relatively new to the role, creating it at Salzburg in 2008 and repeating it there in August 2010.

Nino Machaidze sang Juliette at Salzburg, too, though earlier performances in the run featured Anna Netrebko. Beczala and Machaidze were excellent choices for this second revival of Nicholas Joel's 1994 production at the Royal Opera House.  Different staging to Salzburg, but the carry-over worked well.  There wasn't much Personienregie in Stephen Barlow's direction, and movement was staid and immobile, against a picture postcard set. It's worrying when the best direction comes in the fight scenes (Philip Stafford). However, Gounod's material doesn't lend itself to intellectual depth, so singing makes or breaks performance. Fresh from Salzburg, Beczala and Machaidze were invigorated and carried the whole production.

Beczala's Roméo defined the entire performance. Perfect pitch control. luscious timbre. Although his arias aren't all that long he creates maximum impact. Wonderful and deeply expressive L' amour, oui, son ardeur a troublé tout mon être!. The love duets were beautiful, even if Beczala overshadows Machaidze's Juliette – but that's not surprising, he's just more experienced. (as is Roméo for that matter). With Netrebko he must have been superb. In the last act, Beczala's Salut, tombeau sombre et silencieux!, beautifully modulated, emotionally profound. I loved Beczala's Shepherd in Szymanowski's Krol Roger and enjoyed hearing him develop over the years. Romantic Heroes are now his forte, but he has the depth, I think, to tackle Heldentenor territory.

Machaidze's delightful. She looks like Olivia Hussey in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet, which also adds extra piquancy to her portrayal.  Machaidze's voice is light and agile, the brightness of her timbre expressing Juliette's youthful innocence, her firm lower register expressing the depths of Juliette's character. Like many 14 year olds, Juliette does extremes, as Shakespeare observed well. Machaidze may not have the polish of many much more famous and experienced singers, but she has character. When Machaidze sings of waking too soon, holding Tybalt's blood stained hand, she sings with such fervour that you realize that this Juliette knows what risks she's taking. Sweet as she is, Machaidze's Juliette has a brain.

Performance standards all round the most enthusiastic of the season so far, barring Niobe which is specialist. Darren Jeffrey towers over everyone as Capulet, the role almost as strongly written as Roméo. Alfie Boe received a huge ovation, which he milked as if Tybalt was a principal. He's a good singer, but his fanbase will be his doom unless they take opera seriously, rather than chasing celebrity.

Ketevan Kemoklidze's Stéphano the Page was delightful. Pity the vignette about doves and vultures isn't specially relevant to the drama. Similarly, the crowd scenes, though well executed, are somewhat over-written, though here the crowds were choreographed well, fulfilling their aural purpose without distracting visually. The ROH Chorus is always good and reliable.

Full review HERE  in Opera Today, with production photos. In the meantime, there's a full downlaod of Charles Gounod Roméo et Juliette here on Opera Today. A great resource! The performance is live 1964, Franco Corelli.

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