Florida Grand Opera is concluding its 2011-2012 season with a brilliant and inspired staging of Charles-François Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. This is one of those rare instances where the production design and execution merits discussion up top rather than at the tail end of the review. Just as Roméo et Juliette’s masterful and under-appreciated libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré cuts to the quick of the essential narrative and deepest emotions of Shakespeare’s play, paring away anything extraneous; set and projection designer, Erhard Rom, has fashioned a minimalist set utilizing box-like modules which are moved around to suggest the opera’s various locales without drawing attention away from the beauty of Gounod’s music and the story’s narrative thrust. Particularly effective is Rom’s use of often hauntingly beautiful projections onto the blank surfaces of his set to create mood and heighten emotional effects, for the locales he creates are really places in the heart and mind much more so than depictions of particular physical locales. Rom’s vision is most ably abetted by stage director/choreographer, David Lefkowich, whose expressionistic staging effectively incorporates evocative dance elements and strikingly eloquent mime sequences. In the context of a more realistic and highly detailed set, Lefkowich’s added touches might lead to excessive busy-ness and visual overload, but in the context of Rom’s stark setting, they work marvelously well, adding new levels of depth and impact. Lighting designer Steve TenEyck’s striking, often chiaroscuro lighting and costume designer Jennifer Caprio’s gorgeously understated costumes dovetail wonderfully with the superb overall production design.
Mexican soprano, María Alejandres, is a vivacious and affecting Juliette. Her mellifluous singing combines liquidity of phrasing with considerable heft and power. She was quite the hit of the evening, and those who saw her Juliette are likely already looking forward to her scheduled appearance next season with FGO singing the role of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. As Roméo, French tenor, Sébastien Guèze, sang with considerable dramatic power and matched well with Alejandres. However, his vocal mechanics give his face a gape-mouthed, grimacing appearance reminiscent of the masks of ancient Greek tragedy, which is somewhat off-putting. Among the supporting cast, baritone Jonathan G. Michie sings ably and is suitably dashing and fiery as Mercutio; tenor Daniel Shirley is striking as Tybalt; mezzo-soprano Courtney Colclough is engaging and has fun with the “pants role” of Stéphano; and bass-baritone Stephen Morschek turns in a very well-acted and sung Count Capulet.
As usual, the Florida Grand Opera Chorus was outstanding, both in terms of strength of singing and inspired, eloquent stage movement. In a decade or so of following FGO regularly, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard the Florida Grand Opera Orchestra sound better than it does under the baton of guest conductor Joseph Mechavich. Fluidly, smoothly, he coaxes every bit of passionate intensity and soaring beauty from Gounod’s glorious score. Highly recommended.
Florida Grand Opera’s production of Roméo et Juliette runs through May 5 at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and May 10 and 12 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. For Information and tickets: fgo.org, 800-741-1010.