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Roméo et Juliette
Florida Grand Opera
Alejandres and Guèze, FGO's Juliette and Roméo
© Gaston de Cardenas 2012
Florida Grand Opera's Roméo et Juliette (seen Apr. 21) marked the last official production of Robert Heuer, who has been with the company for thirty-two years. As general director since 1985, Heuer has led FGO (formerly Greater Miami Opera) with intelligence and dedication. Offered in a staging by David Lefkowich, with its gorgeous music conducted briskly by Joseph Mechavich and cast with young, passionate singers, FGO's Roméo et Juliette was a resounding success.
Lefkowich's production (originally conceived for Minnesota Opera in 2008) introduced some ideas that modernized the story of the star-crossed young lovers. Digital projections devised by Erhard Rom made visual references to water and fire (fire as a symbol of conflict, water as a metaphor for innocence, love and reconciliation). Projections of flames, calm and agitated waves, along with other images such as clouds, stars, a huge moon and two stone angels from a nineteenth-century cemetery, created many poetic and effective moments. The action was clearly set in Renaissance times, with sword fights and colorful, tasteful period costumes by Jennifer Caprio. Rom's movable architectural sets were abstract interpretations in the manner of Escher or Italian metaphysical painters such as de Chirico; they created an appropriate decor for the many changes of location and were certainly enhanced by the digital projections.
Mexican soprano Maria Alejandres and French tenor Sébastien Guèze were a splendid pair of adolescents — carefree, fearless, flirtatious and impetuous, as youth requires. They moved well, they kissed beautifully, and their duets were vocally and theatrically engaging. Lefkowich created beautiful moments that breathed with freshness: Juliet leaning over Romeo, who gently bent his knees to retain her embrace; the cross of light in Act II; the long white curtains that caress their night of love — all made for splendid theater. Alejandres's voice is gorgeous, full-bodied and technically sound. Her "Je veux vivre" sent shivers up one's spine. She shaped her phrases with impressive musicality but always displayed a sure and forceful sense of character. Guèze was a tremendous partner for her: their duets were little jewels. Guèze offered intelligent articulation and deployment of his essentially light voice in such a demanding role.
All other roles were very well cast, with special mention earned by the brilliant Mercutio of Jonathan Michie and South Korean baritone Joo Won Kang's noble interpretation of the Duke of Verona. Mechavich moved Gounod's music along at a swift pace. At first, the conductor seemed content merely to accompany the action. But his handling of the score improved over the course of the opera, and the music flowed sensitively during the last two acts. The orchestra was in great shape overall, as was the large chorus, prepared by John Keene. The duels and assassinations of Act III were credible and effectively choreographed; less successful were the many passages of dance and mime.
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