Married couple play lovers in opera
By Jeff Britton
SDUN Opera Critic
If art imitates life, why can’t life imitate art? That seems to be the case in San Diego Opera’s upcoming production of Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet,” when real-life couple Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez portray the world’s most famous star-crossed lovers.
Opera buffs might be aware of another prominent real-life couple, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, who sang the roles in PBS’ romantic film adaptation of the opera that aired as part of its “Great Performances” series.
In France, critics often place this opera before “Faust,” Gounod’s most popular and frequently staged opera based on another classic by Goethe. “Faust” was a kind of innovation in France, and “Romeo and Juliet” might be described as the offshoot and sequence.
The subject had been exploited by many composers before Gounod had a go at it. Berlioz wrote a work for solo voices, choir and orchestra. Tchaikovsky had his familiar “Fantasy Overture,” and Prokofiev penned a brilliant ballet with two orchestral suites as offshoots.
More popular works emerged with Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and a movie version by Franco Zeffirelli with one of the most recognized scores in all of cinema.
With some artistic license, the libretto is pretty faithful to Shakespeare’s version of the legend, including the diction. The first act represents the ball at the Capulets’ house, Romeo and his buddies’ stolen march, the lovers’ first meeting and the vindictive Tybalt’s recognition of Romeo. The second act is the famous balcony scene, while the third combines the Friar’s cell where the couple is secretly married. But like the drama, the opera ends with the lovers’ death.
But opera is all about the music, and Gounod illustrates the subject with a most melodious score. The plot is practically a succession of love-duets; and it is love—dreamy, languorous, tender and voluptuous, a thing literally woven of moonlight—that is pictured in the score.
The scene in Juliet’s room is delightfully tender, and the balcony duet is one of the most melodious and heart-rending in all of opera. There is a showy waltz-arietta for Juliet at the ball, and a striking solo for Friar Laurence followed by a strong trio and quartet. The charming madrigal for two voices in the first act and the tragic scene at the tomb, with its profound melancholy, are also major musical gems.
San Diego audiences last saw the opera in 1998 and the enthusiastic response undoubtedly prompted the current production. What’s different, of course, is the cast, and this one is blessed with some extraordinary voices and recently risen talent.
Stephen Costello is well on his way to superstardom, having made his Met debut in 2007 in “Lucia di Lammermoor,” and last year winning the prestigious Richard Tucker Award. The American tenor recently sang at the Salzburg Festival and the Spoleto Festival in Italy. He has already appeared with major companies in Dallas, Philadelphia, Berlin and Baltimore.
His wife, American soprano Ailyn Perez, has plenty to crow about as well. She also sang at Salzburg, as well as performing major roles in St. Louis, Palm Beach, Boston and Michigan. She parlayed her Latina heritage into a successful tour of the U.S. and Mexico with Andrea Bocelli. Both she and Costello are making their San Diego Opera debuts.
Also making his San Diego debut is American baritone David Adam Moore as Mercutio. A regular at the Seattle Opera, he has sung in major houses from La Scala to Hanover, Pittsburgh to Fort Worth. Joel Sorensen, who plays Tybalt, has become a San Diego regular, most notably as Curley in “Of Mice and Men” and in the Carlysle Floyd opera “Cold Sassy Tree” in 2001. His credits include the Met and more than 200 performances for the New York City Opera.
Rounding out the cast are San Diego Opera veterans Kevin Langan as Friar Laurent, Scott Sikon as Capulet, Joseph Hu as Benvolio, Suzanna Guzman as Gertrude and Malcolm MacKenzie as Gregorio.
Stage direction (set and costumes by the Utah Opera) is by Cynthia Stokes with Karen Keltner conducting the San Diego Symphony. This marks the first time women helm a production by the San Diego Opera as both conductor and director.u
“Romeo and Juliet”
March 13, 16, 19 and 21 (matinee)
3rd Avenue and B Street
downtown San Diego