The Kids Aren't Alright
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
04/21/2012 - & April 24, 27, 29, May 2, 5 (Miami), May 10, 12 (Fort Lauderdale), 2012
Charles Gounod: Roméo et Juliette
Sébastien Guèze (Roméo), Maria Alejandres (Juliette), Jonathan Michie (Mercutio), Craig Colclough (Friar Laurent), Steve Morscheck (Count Capulet), Daniel Shirley (Tybalt), Joo Won Kang (Duke of Verona), Courtney McKeown (Stephano), Cindy Sadler (Gertrude), Ryan Milstead (Gregorio), Graham Fandrei (Count Paris/Friar John)
Florida Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus, John Keene (chorus master), Joseph Mechavich (conductor)
David Lefkowich (director), Erhard Rom (set design), Jennifer Caprio (costume design), Steve TenEyck (lighting design)
S. Guèze & M. Alejandres (Courtesy of FGO)
For many of us Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette can be a bore. It seems to take forever to get started, the romance is not terribly scorching, the trouser role is particularly unnecessary and the whole thing just takes too long. But when you don’t appreciate a work that is offered intermittently like this one, there is always the chance that you can be won over. Lowering expectations is the best way to approach certain pieces. And there is no question that there is a lot of really beautiful stuff in this opera. And in performance, that trouser role can be fun because it gives some lightness to a work that often regards itself as almost reverential.
This production came with a couple notable casting enticements. The originally scheduled Juliette, the wonderful Sarah Coburn, who has made several notable appearances with Florida Grand Opera, had to drop out because she is expecting a baby. Best wishes, Sarah. She was replaced by Maria Alejandres who created a stunning Lucia a couple seasons back in Miami and again last month in Palm Beach; a true singing actress. The Roméo, Sébastien Guèze, was a most touching and almost dashing Christian in last season’s Cyrano, so he would seem to make a model Montague.
But when these forces came together, they just didn’t make sparks. For Alejandres it was a matter of miscasting. Her voice is simply too ripe and too big for Shakespeare’s virgin. The coloratura and trills are most impressive but the voice simply is not Juliette, maybe her big sister. Alejandres might be too young for Puccini and Verdi roles but this is obviously the direction she is headed. In fact it was announced before the performance that she would be Florida Grand Opera’s Violetta next season. Guèze’s voice on the other hand is simply not strong enough to be attempting such a demanding role. His performance was a perfect example of a singer forcing his voice. This not only affected his sound but interfered with the character he was trying to portray. This Roméo was always either angry or in physical pain; he never looked longingly at his lover probably because he seemed overly worried about emitting the next phrase.
In addition this production was marred by silly direction. This is not a concept production; the story isn’t set in a different era; nor were the characters’ motivations turned inside out. With this production we got a not unpleasant set design that has a sort of Art Deco/Frank Lloyd Wright meets Mediterranean feel calling unnecessary attention to itself when doing something as simple as erecting a cross at the monastery; understatement was just not goal here. And perhaps designers and directors are no longer to blame in an era when an audience cares more about the ornate design and the loud singing than the intentions of the creators. Additionally, unnecessary were embarrassing choreography and a series of both confusing and distracting projections placed against the sets that were sometimes downright ugly. What is wrong with just letting the music express the moods?
Perhaps because of this, the performance was never boring as we awaited the next ridiculous image or gesture. Yet, there were some genuine pluses in the supporting roles. Cindy Saddler made a terrific and touching Gertrude with a powerful voice. Jonathan Michie showed once again that Mercutio can easily walk away with the opera and his ovation at curtain time proved he did. Daniel Shirley made Tybalt very threatening and his pure and solid tone indicated that he might have had the equipment to be more effective in the title role. Subtlety did find its way into the cast with sensitive turns by Steve Morscheck as Count Capulet and the Friar Laurent of Craig Colclough. And the commanding voice and presence of Joo Won Kang as the Duke restored the necessary civility to Verona after the brutal duels. Though it is intended as a cameo, the role of Stephano requires a more seasoned performer than Courtney McKeown whose unfortunate hairpiece gave her more the impression of a moppet than of an adolescent.
The production and the cast would have benefitted from following conductor Joseph Mechavich’s approach with the orchestra. Some of Gounod’s loveliest moments were given in the understated style that was once the standard for French opera and becomes lost more and more in an effort to approach today’s Cirque du Soleil style of opera presentation. The chorus under the direction of John Keene also followed a lighter approach so that the singing was suitably sensitive, sometimes as in the prologue, quite movingly, and not applied with a trowel.
Let’s hope for the day when the intentions of Gounod and Shakespeare come before those of directors, designers and choreographers.