Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bel Cantanti's Production of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette

As promised, I return to you with another, more intimate production of Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod.

The Metropolitan Opera puts on a resplendent production, but its richest advantage is simultaneously its greatest shortcoming. I constantly find myself in awe of the huge, luscious sets and productions, often staged with live animals and upwards of a hundred singers and dancers parading in lavish, gilded costumes, but for me, opera's greatest draw is the drama and passion, the gut-wrenching sorrow and inspiring poetry that is almost exclusively dedicated to solo arias and duets.

After an infancy of front row privileges, I find myself constantly disappointed either by Mimi's insignificant death in La Bohème, or a seemingly passionless, albeit floating, embrace of Roméo and his love on their wedding night at the Met. These memorable, intimate scenes, which I am accustomed to experiencing almost first hand, lose the bulk of their charm and power when transplanted to the center of a gilded soccer field.

With these thoughts in mind, I return to Romeo et Juliette, as performed by the singers of my mother's budding opera company, Bel Cantanti Opera. It is a well-known story, and as I did not trouble myself to explain it in my last post on the production, I will follow my own example, and presume you need no lesson in classic literature.

Bel Cantanti's was a noteworthy production; with a cast of about 12 chorus singers, the ensemble put up a valiant front and sang the opening piece with force and diction, equaling a cast of double its numbers. Chun-Ting Chao made a youthful and charming Juliette, graceful in her movements and singing the role beautifully. Sitting in the third row, I was granted a full range of expression and movement, which is completely indiscernible from the family balcony of the Met, which finds itself a good tenth of a mile off stage. Juliette performed her arias with a spree and showed great chemistry with Eric Gramatges, as her Roméo, who took the lead with an immeasurably admirable performance.

Bel Cantanti's production features many incredibly talented and professional singers, some of whom are completely new to me, and others who have graced Bel Cantanti stages for seasons past. Great performances were put in by Kwang Kyu Lee as Frere Laurent and Abigail Fischer as the quirky and boyish Stephano.

The sets exhibit great taste and visual economy, avoiding the continual pitfall of unnecessary frill and pomp that many small stages succumb to, which only distract the eye from the singers and their magnificent costumes. Each piece of furniture and backdrop was chosen and created with specific meaning and kept in tune with the date. Juliette's bed, hand built with a sheer canopy and a charming lace bedspread, caught my particular attention.

The greatest moment of this opera, like many others, is the extended death scene of its two principal characters, which occupies the entirety of the last act. Watching this production, I found myself channeling the polar experience of the Metropolitan, where all I wished for was a pair of binoculars or to be watching it on a high definition television screen, yes, pathetic. Although I can never truly find myself pitying the foolish star-crossed lovers, the last act of Roméo and Juliette, I believe to be immeasurably breathtaking; the story aside, I find myself transported into an unutterable state of despair for an incredible twenty minutes.

Seeing the characters framed perfectly by the solemn marble tomb, writhing in each other's arms, uttering their final farewells, I found myself imagining Titian's paintings of Psyche, lighting a candle to find Cupid in her bed or Apollo supporting his love Hyacinth, whom he has just stricken down. The scene is simply and beautifully staged, and the handsome singing and chemistry between Eric Gramatges and Chun-Ting Chao found me transplanted into some of the greatest tragic love stories of our time.

Watching Juliette stab herself and perform her aria sprawled on her back reminded me of some long forgotten episode of American Idol where the singers were forced to prove their talent by signing while lying on the ground. Perhaps, it does ring true, as the greatest singers have to perform while dying or making love, while others need voice-overs to get through their mediocre dance numbers.

If you find yourself in the greater Washington DC area this coming weekend, I urge you to grant yourself the privilege of seeing these talented performers in their final debut of the 2010-2011 season, and allow them to show, first hand, how to die for love.

Tickets and information can be found on their website at: www.BelCantanti.com

No comments:

Post a Comment