Vancouver Opera's Roméo et Juliette is a stunning achievement
By Charles Gounod. A Vancouver Opera production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Saturday, November 26. Continues November 29 and December 1 and 3
For those still wondering what West Side Story has to do with opera, Vancouver Opera is now running a real one, Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. There has been so much R and J recently (counting derivatives), and in so short a time, not to mention the National Ballet of Canada’s widely covered new take on the story with choreographer Alexei Ratmansky (which recently debuted in Toronto). But at least VO has its heart in the right place: what is opera but a song of love and death?
As if it hadn’t enough going for it already, Roméo et Juliette is one of the world’s perfect entry-level operas, high-schooler knowing the story from beginning to end. And it has an abundance of that very thing that earlier times, amazingly, thought it lacked: music. You wonder what people were thinking when they could be deaf to such ravishing melodies, and so many of them—including an all-but-unheard-of four duets.
The title roles in this production are both taken by splendid voices: soprano Simone Osborne making her first appearance at VO, and lyric tenor Gordon Gietz. It was hard to believe how consistent this production is, from the handsomeness of the Gothic set (designed by Eric Fielding) and the colour palette of the costumes (Susan Memmott Allred) to the beauty of the singing.
For once we have a young Romeo and Juliet, reflecting what Shakespeare must have had in mind: Osborne could actually pass for 14, except that we know no 14-year-old produces sounds like that. She sang no less than exquisitely, hitting every high note, yet not trilling quite securely enough on a high A-flat. But for that she could be easily forgiven for her elegant and expressive style, her openness of sound, and her unaffectedly natural acting. This girl’s going places. Watch her.
Gietz provided her with a wonderful partner, one capable of a true, effortless legato and the creation of a Roméo who is both virile and sensitive, as he showed in his arias Ah! Lève-toi, soleil! and the heartbreaking soliloquy, Console-toi, pauvre âme, plus his tone was always unaspirated and firm. Virtually everyone in the cast was exemplary: to name just a few, mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne in the pants role of Roméo’s page Stéphano, bass Peter Volpe as Frère Laurent, and Antoine Bélanger as Tybalt.
Director Allison Grant sees that speed and impetuosity are the main impulses of the action—this is a very fast R and J—and conductor Jacques Lacombe sees to the music beautifully, with, as usual, the Vancouver Opera Orchestra doing some of its finest work in memory.
The final death scene is just what it should be—chilling and moving with the exactly right lighting (by designer Gerald King). I haven’t been as touched by that vision in a long time.