Seeing the Royal Opera’s
production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette is like being cast back to a
bygone era. There’s little
directorial intervention in Nicolas Joël’s staging and an almost tasteless literalism about
the sets, costumes and, it has to be said, some of the acting.
None of this gets
in the way of a glorious score and a thoroughly enjoyable evening for a work
that could hardly be said to be over-exposed (this is only the production’s
second revival since 1994).
Of the two slavic leading voices
– Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze as Juliette and Polish tenor Piotr Beczala as
Roméo – it’s the latter who comes off better in this
repertoire. He pushes the ardency
at times but vocally Beczala’s on the best form he’s been since he first
appeared at Covent Garden six years ago. His ringing and powerful tenor is
absolutely world-class and a joy to hear.
Machaidze is less
comfortable with this French lyricism.
She would probably not welcome comparison with Netrebko but, with the
Russian having played the same role here (in Bellini’s version) just 18 months
ago, it’s unavoidable. She’s a
buxom beauty with a similar presence.
It’s not the sweetest voice, and there’s a tendency towards a stridency
which doesn’t suit the role, but she’s a pretty fair actress (apart from
overdoing the little girl acting at the beginning) and has an impressive coloratura. At only 27, there’s plenty of time for
her to develop.
The Royal Opera chorus are
on fine form, vocally if not always acting-wise (bouts of physical rhubarbing
break out from time to time, perhaps inevitable in as prehistoric a staging as
this) and there are excellent supporting performances.
As Tybalt, Alfie Boe proves
again how useful he can be in the right secondary role and Stéphane
Degout is a masculine, powerful Mercutio.
Darren Jeffrey’s youthful Capulet impresses, as does Vitalij Kowaljow's
house debut as Frère Laurent. In
the trouser role of Roméo’s page Stéphano, another debutante, Ketevan Kemoklidze, is
Like a great musical theatre
composer, Gounod pushes all the right buttons, which fire off in every direction
all evening. Conductor Daniel Oren
injects unexpected excitement and tenderness, producing a performance of lush
This is not an evening for
dramatic insight but an eye-opener for anyone unconvinced of Gounod’s once-pre-eminent
place in the operatic world. It helps
shake off the woeful memory of ENO’s recent hash-up of the composer’s other