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Fang-tastic Voyage

October 24, 2007

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    October 24, 2007
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    Opera Carolina News

Fang-tastic Voyage

Conventionality can be a good thing. After the gangster-riddled version staged by Spoleto Festival USA last year, Opera Carolina's traditional staging of Charles Gounod's Roméo et Juliette struck me as a welcome dose of sanity. Claude Girard's design concept brought elegance and nobility back to the strife twixt Montagues and Capulets, and Jay Lesenger, one of the best stage directors ever to contend with the vast Belk Theater, again secured a fine gallery of dramatic portraits.

Artistic director/conductor James Meena had more formidable difficulties to surmount. None of them originated in the pit with the Charlotte Symphony, who were pliant, precise and impressive from the first notes of the overture. It was onstage that all the musical carnage occurred.

First, there was the tentative, underpowered Opera Carolina Chorus, in total disarray at first, improving afterwards to barely adequate. Bring back Larry Toppman! Or a group willing to pounce on an entrance rather than circling it warily. Next there were Donald Hartmann as Juliet's father and Michael Dane as Paris, Capulet's choice for his daughter's hand. Less sung, the better.

Biggest disappointment was Sari Gruber, a luminous actress in her Charlotte debut as Juliet, but vocally shaky as she ascended to the stratosphere of the stave. On the other hand, Gaston Rivero swathed Roméo's vocals with the purest honey. Unfortunately, his wooden acting must have given Lesenger heartburn. In spite of the fact that there were nicely placed monitors at both ends of the stage, Rivero wouldn't sing without locking his eyes on the 3-D version of Meena's baton. Yeah, that rigidity does make a fervent duet just a tad tepid.

There were some truly great finds among the comprimarios making their debuts. Richard Novak brought a saturnine strength to Tybalt that almost made me sad to see him go. Double loss when the sprightly, mischievous Phillip Addis perished in the same scene as Mercutio. John Fortson as The Duke and Philip Cokorinos as Friar Lawrence salved my mourning.