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Short, sharp shot of Romeo

October 19, 2007

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    October 19, 2007
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    Opera Carolina News

Short, sharp shot of Romeo

In its staging of Charles Gounod's "Romeo and Juliette," Opera Carolina abbreviates Shakespeare even more than Gounod did. The production nevertheless packs a wallop, though. A few sketches of Thursday's opening:

Star-crossed lovers: As Romeo and Juliet, tenor Gaston Rivero and soprano Sari Gruber gave each of the sweethearts a distinct musical aura. Rivero sang with more and more fire as the night went on, climaxing in the outpouring after the swordfighting deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. His voice's fluttery vibrato may have detracted from masculine sturdiness, but his sheer abandon compensated. Gruber sang with a wealth of tender inflections. When the music soared, though, her voice almost never quite made it to the right pitch. The strain especially showed in Juliet's dramatic scene meditating on the potion mimicking death. Maybe Opera Carolina should've reverted to the old tradition of cutting it. That might have helped make time for the wedding scene, which the company leaves out.

Fair Verona, indeed: With greenery cascading along the exterior of the Capulet's palace, Claude Girard's set for the Balcony Scene provided a luxuriant setting for Romeo and Juliet's love to bloom. Girard's interiors, with their faux-marble columns and arches, were a gleaming embodiment of the grandeur of powerful families.

Warring factions: On Romeo's side, Phillip Addis' Mercutio cut a swashbuckling figure, singing his Queen Mab aria with pizazz and jumping into the swordplay with gusto. Diane McEwen-Martin carried on coltishly as Romeo's non-Shakespearean pal Stephano -- a role that employs the operatic convention of having a woman portray an adolescent boy. Among Juliet's clan: With his ringing voice, tenor Richard Novak's Tybalt matched Addis' Mercutio for swagger. Donald Hartmann's blustery singing made Capulet's party-scene joviality sound forced, but the cozy exchange with Juliet that should have led toward the wedding suited him better. Philip Cokorinos, as Friar Laurence, had more warmth and richness, so his compassion for Juliet came through.

Enhancing the theatrics: The rustle of latecomers returning from the first intermission made it hard to be sure, but the Charlotte Symphony, led by conductor James Meena, probably brought a moonlit gleam to the Balcony Scene's gentle introduction. There was no missing the orchestra's impact as it added its thrusts and parries to the swordfight, though. The Opera Carolina Chorus, after a weak beginning in the prologue, contributed another layer of sonic heft to the lament over the bodies of Tybalt and Mercutio.

Weaving it all together: Stage director Jay Lesenger kept the stage action rich and alive. He added bits of interplay that, even without words attached, fleshed out relationships -- such as Juliet's chilly greeting to her fiance-to-be, Tybalt, in the opening scene. And Dale Anthony Girard's adroit choreography for the swordplay helped the singers look like street-fighting hotheads. That isn't so easy to do. Music REVIEW

Romeo et Juliette

Opera Carolina performs Charles Gounod's version of the love story.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St.

TICKETS: $15-$95.

DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.operacarolina.org.

Steven Brown