ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

review: Romeo and Juliet, the rush of new love with a short shelf life, at SF Opera

Charismatic tenor Pene Pati/Romeo is believably engulfed in the passion of true love in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet,”  last performed at SFO 32 years ago.  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

No matter how familiar the plot, most of us are suckers for a passionate love story; there’s none more enthralling than Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  As a live performance, though, it only clicks when the onstage chemistry is so electric that you find yourself seduced and falling in love with love.   San Francisco Opera’s 97th season opener, “Romeo and Juliet,Charles Gounod’s musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic sucks you in hook, line, and sinker.  The intense longing, desire, and attraction of new love come alive again briefly for Romeo and Juliet, until it all tragically unravels.

The production clicks on so many levelsthe gorgeous singing of leads Nadine Sierra and Pene Pati, their supporting cast, and the SFO Chorus; guest conductor Yves Abel’s and SFO Orchestra’s fluid interpretation of Gounod’s lyrical score.  And a last minute twist that provided the thrilling suspense that makes opera, well, operatic.

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra disappear into their characters and feed off of each other in four impassioned and lyrical duets that anchor Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

Just three days before the season’s opening gala performance on Sept 6, Romeo, tenor Bryan Hymel, withdrew from the entire production citing personal reasons.  New Zealand tenor Pene Pati, stepped up to sing the entire run.  Pati, a former Adler, who sang the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s “Rigloetto” in 2017, was already booked to sing Romeo in the last of the opera’s seven scheduled performances.  His debut under pressure was splendid.  In his second performance as Romeo, on Sept 13, Patis charisma was palpable, magical.  He sang with such lyricism, passion and seemingly effortless precision that, even in the most challenging arias, he came off like a Ferrari that had just given everyone in attendance the ride of their life.  The love-at-first-sight scene with Julia at the Capulet ball, was something to behold as soprano Nadine Sierra, in her role debut, first encountered her Romeo.  For anyone living the daily grind of a romantic relationship, the interaction between these two was food for the soul.

Pati may be new to the role at SFO but he’s had years to reflect on it.  In 2014, he beat out a remarkable 304 singers to win the Montserrat Caballé International Singing Competition in Zaragosa with his interpretation of the Romeo’s Act II taxing ariaAh, lève-toi, soleil.”  Last Friday, the tenor imbued the seven minute aria with such emotion, and then ended on what seemed like an impossibly-long extended note, that the audience was enraptured.

Soprano Nadine Sierra as Juliet. Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

As Juliet, Nadine Sierra gave a sublime performance that was at times joyfully playful and, by turns, tender, passionate and heart-wrenching, always convincing and never over the top.  Her Act I “Je veux vivre dans le rêve” (Juliet’s Waltz), where she expresses the desire to live inside her cozy dreamworld, where it is eternally spring, was radiant, light, and showcased her exceptional range.

Following in the steps of Ruth Ann Swenson, 32 years ago, Sierra is now the second artist in SFO history to sing Act IV’s notoriously daunting potion aria, “Amour ranime courage,” which contains two high C’s and and relentless vocal gymnastics.  Those of us lucky enough to have followed Sierra’s rise through the ranks of the Merola and Adler programs will never forget how she beamed after slaying this wicked aria in 2012 for the Adler “The Future is Now” concert.  Last Friday, she was in complete control of the aria from start to finish, delivering an astonishing array of glittering sound while enacting a roller-coaster of emotion that ends with her drinking the potion that will feign her death.

Mezzo soprano Stephanie Lauricella as in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page. Photo: Cory Weaver

Among secondary roles, mezzo Stephanie Lauricella distinguished herself in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page.  Following her magical Act III aria, “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?,” several in the audience rose to their feet.  Baritone Lucas Meachem, another former Adler, impressed as Mercutio, Romeo’s friend from his first solo aria in Act I, “Mab, la reine des mensonges”.

Canadian conductor Yves Abel’s sensitive command over the SFO orchestra grew more impressive as the evening progressed.  While hailed as Gounod’s most impressive opera, the score’s prelude and first act did not impress and the first 30 or so minutes were carried by the singing.

Dull staging is the thing that most often drags SFO operas down, contributing a stolid feel to productions that soar in other regards. Jean-Louis Grinda’s staging and Eric Chevalier’s Renaissance-era Verona set designs, a collaboration between Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Teatro Carlo Felice, were uninspired.  Much of the action took place on an unattractive round starburst patterned concave platform that was surrounded by architectural details varying over the course of the opera.  The audience was made to wait out several long scene changes which broke up the continuity of the drama and, when the curtain rose, nothing of high visual interest awaited.

Carola Volles’ costumes were hit and miss. Those of plush jewel-toned velvet added sumptuousness and vibrancy to the dull set, particularly in the masked ball, but gowns with more color and pizazz would have better showcased Juliet.

In the end, Pati and Sierra claimed the night…unstoppable in love and death.

Details: There are four remaining performances of Romeo and Juliet: Sat, 9/21 at 7:30 pm; Tues, 9/24 at 7:30 pm; Sun, 9/29 at 2 pm and Tues 10/1 at 7:30 pm. Run Time: 2 hours and 56 min, with one intermission. Tickets: Remaining performances are selling out; purchase online  https://sfopera.com/2019-20-season/romeo-juliet/

Traffic alert: If you are driving in from the North Bay, allow at least 45 min travel/parking time from the Golden Gate Bridge to War Memorial Opera House. For a list of parking garages closest to the opera house, visit https://sfopera.com/plan-your-visit/directions-and-parking/

 

September 21, 2019 - Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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