Roméo et Juliette, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2010Posted on 27 October 2010
When Nino Machaidze sang Juliet’s fourth Act aria, Amour ranime mon courage she rose beautifully to the heights of emotion, and the tension was sustained in Act 5. This is when Romeo finds her in the tomb, drinks poison and she awakes so they can sing together, which they did superbly.
It was a glorious ending, and Ms. Machaidze was obviously delighted with the well-deserved applause, though she had made a wobbly start with Je veux vivre dans ce rêve in Act 1, which expresses Juliet’s desire to remain in her girlish state. It was delivered with a harsh tone and excessive vibrato, more suitable for Tosca than the young Juliet, but in fairness to the singer it was her Covent Garden debut in this role, and she was understandably nervous. Her performance gained strength and subtlety as the evening progressed, and by the end she was terrific. Piotr Beczala as Romeo was inspired throughout. His voice was strong, well-controlled and romantically lyrical, and he seems to have an excellent knack for portraying impassioned young men — in 2009 I admired him as Rodolfo in Boheme at Covent Garden, and Edgardo in the live Lucia broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera.
The chorus was very powerful, particularly in Act 3, and the soloists produced excellent support. Ketevan Kemoklidze was wonderful as the Montague page, as was Alfie Boe as Tybalt, and Vitalij Kowaljow was a very fine Frère Laurent. Simon Neal sang strongly in the small part of the Duke, and Darren Jeffery as Capulet and Stephane Degout as Mercutio, portrayed their roles most convincingly. This production by Nicolas Joël, with designs by Carlo Tommasi, gives a sense of power and imperviousness to the Capulet house. What it failed to give was a convincing sense of emotion that might have been helped by concentrating on some small details. For instance Juliet is evidently in a state of distress when being conveyed to the altar, and collapses as she gets close to it, but the priests stood motionless until kneeling. Surely some expression of surprise and concern would not come amiss from the extras playing these roles.
Of course this wedding ceremony is one of several differences from Shakespeare. The libretto by Barbier and Carré is based on the Bard, but takes various liberties, including the ending: a final duet before Juliet kills herself, and no appearance of Paris at the tomb. I prefer Shakespeare, but Gounod’s music is strongly evocative of the drama, and was beautifully conducted by Daniel Oren. He started with enormous bounce, and showed a very gentle style in the right places, particularly the beginning of Act 2 in the garden where Piotr Beczala’s performance of Romeo’s cavatina Ah! lève-toi, soleil! elicited huge applause and moved the performance into a higher gear.
Further performances are scheduled for October 29 and November 1, 5, 8, 11, 13, 17, with Maria Alejandres as Juliette on November 11 and 17. For more details click here.