It’s not in the same league as Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff, but Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet is a pretty good take on Shakespeare’s most popular love story. With a strong performance such as that of the Dallas Opera on Sunday afternoon, it seems better than just pretty good.
Romeo and Juliet is unusual among operas in staying reasonably close to its source. If you’re familiar with the Bard’s Romeo, you should feel at home in Gounod’s. There’s a lot of tinkering with details — after all, this is opera — but the broad outlines are the same.
The most obvious changes are at the end. Gounod has Romeo and Juliet alive together and dying together — otherwise there’d be no final duet. And he eliminates the postmortem scene with the reconciling families — an unoperatic kind of finale.
The titular roles in Dallas’ production are in good hands (above). As Romeo, Charles Castronovo has a pleasantly virile tenor voice, he acts well, and he looks the part — especially in designer Claude Girard’s costumes. As Juliet, Lyubov Petrova has a pretty, sparkling soprano, she acts well, and she looks her part (ditto the preceding comment about costumes).
They are backed by a solid cast. The ones who appealed the most strongly to me were Robert Lloyd (below) as Friar Laurence (listen to him in the marriage scene and see if you don’t hear Sarastro in The Magic Flute), Roxana Constantinescu as Stéphano (a Gounod addition), Aaron Blake as Tybalt and Joshua Hopkins as Mercutio.
Girard’s appealing, traditional set designs are highly effective in establishing an atmosphere complementary to this familiar old tragedy. Mark McCullough’s lighting is a strong plus.
Best of all, Gounod’s tuneful music works its usual magic. His Romeo and Juliet may be even better than Faust, that old perennial.
photos by Karen Almond