Opera Review

Rolanda Villazon and Anna Netrebko star in "Roméo et Juliette."

Youthful portrayals charm in ‘Roméo et Juliette’

By Juliet Schoen/Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Opera production of Gounod’s French opera “Romeo et Juliette” is to die for! Anyone with a romantic bone in his or her body will be enchanted by the two lovers who are portrayed by the beautiful, youthful Anna Netrebko and the boyish tenor, Rolanda Villazon. Netrebko has a warm, strong soprano voice, which she uses to great effect. She was superbly supported by the Romeo of Villazon, a real hero of the evening. A smallish man with a big voice, he produced thrills and chills during the passionate love scenes.

Gounod’s version of Shakespeare’s beloved play wisely starts with the epilogue as the two warring families, the Capulets and the Montagues, mourn the loss of their children. In this way, the opera can end with the dramatic finale in which the two lovers die together in the tomb. (Am I giving anything away?)

Based on the costumes, the tragedy now takes place in Paris some time in the 1800s. The set is a strange one, seemingly made up of the construction pieces of a huge Erector set. However, the three-story buildings could be moved around expeditiously to create the various venues. Two crystal chandeliers descend to create a ballroom, while huge tree boughs are brought down for the charming balcony duet.

The bedroom scene is about as sexy as it gets in opera. The bed covering and canopy are a vivid red and the newly married couple, barely clothed (is that an oxymoron?), show how athletic a wedding night can be.

There is not only sex, there is violence! The battle between Juliette’s cousin, Tybalt, and Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, is cleverly staged, although swords are not used.

All the principals handled their roles well. Especially impressive was Anna-Maria Panzarella, an outstanding mezzo in the trouser role of Romeo’s valet. Marc Barrard was Mercutio and Tybalt was played by Florian Laconi.

Others were Reinhard Hagen as Friar Laurence, Simone Alberghini as Lord Capulet, the reliable Suzanna Guzman as the nurse, Michael Gallup as the Duke of Verona, David Babinet as Count Paris, Gregorio Gonzalez as Gregorio, Peter Nathan Foltz as Benvolio and Jinyoung Jang as Friar John.

Frederic Chaslin conducted the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and showed that he could handle the lush musical score with its swirling waltzes and romantic arias. The directing by Ian Judge was superb with clever touches in all the scenes. John Gunter was the designer of the unusual sets and Tim Goodchild was responsible for the lavish costumes. Everything worked wonderfully well on opening night and the artists all received a thunderous ovation.

This opera simply cannot succeed without a credible Romeo and Juliet. Netrebko and Villazon were totally believable as youngsters. They were marvelous in the famous balcony scene, equally delightful in the bedroom and heart-wrenching in their final love duet.