Villaume Conducts A Powerful Roméo et Juliette

United StatesUnited States Gounod, Roméo et Juliette: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Emmanuel Villaume (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 11.03.2016. (JLZ)

ROMEO AND JULIET_IMG_6543_c.Andrew Cioffi
Roméo et Juliette (c) Andrew Cioffi

Gounod, Roméo et Juliette


Romeo: Eric Cutler
Juliet: Susanna Phillips
Mercutio: Joshua Hopkins
Friar Laurence: Christian Van Horn
Stephano: Marianne Crebassa
Gertrude: Deborah Nansteel
Capulet: Philip Horst
Tybalt: Jason Slayden
Duke of Verona: David Govertsen
Benvolio: Mingjie Lei
Paris: Takaoki Onishi
Gregorio: Anthony Clark Evans


Director: Bartlett Sher
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton
Chorus Master: Michael Black
Conductor: Emmanuel Villaume

Capping Lyric Opera of Chicago’s noteworthy 2015–2016 season, Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette has a first-rate cast responding beautifully to Emmanuel Villaume’s breathtaking conducting. In the role of Romeo, Eric Cutler gives a stunning performance. His supple voice is made for this part, and he makes the most of Gounod’s lyricism and subtlety, all with exquisite timing and remarkable musicianship. In the second-act cavatina “Ah! lève-toi soleil, Cutler made the most of Gounod’s sinuous lines, and earned scattered shouts of “bravo.”

He also brought calm restraint to the final scene of Act III, when Romeo tries to suppress that fight leading to the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. Here Cutler’s softer tones spoke volumes in bringing out the character’s emotional state. Similar power was apparent in the final duet “Viens! fuyons au bout du monde!” in which Cutler and Susanna Phillips completely commanded the stage with their intensity.

Phillips was an equally impressive Juliette, a role that fit her voice with similar finesse. The opening aria “Je veux vivre” was exuberant in conveying the text and musical line, with clear and resonant melismas. If she was at times hesitant, confidence returned during the rest of the opera, especially in the second-act Finale “Ah! ne fuis pas encore.” Her technique and engaging sound were evident all evneing, as the buoyant ingénue of the first act transformed into a tragic heroine by the end. Phillips could have held back a bit in the fourth act, where the aria “Amour, ranime mon courage” sometimes sounded strained. But in the last scene, she and Cutler were powerful.

The other roles were evenly cast, with each singer bringing intensity and character. Joshua Hopkins made Mercutio stand apart with his stunning Queen Mab soliloquy, delineating the line with a fine actor’s sensitivity and masterful pacing. Christian Van Horn gave Friar Laurence distinction with his rich bass and customary clean delivery. In the trouser role of Stephano, an adolescent, Marianne Crebassa gave a similarly memorable version of the turtle-dove chanson “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle.”

In an interesting change, this scene was placed after the single intermission (the first half ended with the wedding scene) increasing the dramatic emphasis—perhaps more than if the production had followed the conventional scenic division of Gounod’s score. This allowed the drama to build to the joyous quartet that concludes the first scene of Act III, “O pur bonheur.” Here Phillips, Cutler, Van Horn, and Deborah Nansteel (as the nurse Gertrude) were a cohesive, stylish unit.

The production also included some modest cuts, mostly in the fourth and fifth acts. Beyond these decisions, Bartlett Sher’s direction was evident in the confident blocking and placement. The sets, from the Metropolitan Opera, fit the Civic Opera House stage as if they had been made for it. Each scene was composed within the open space of an Italian town square, as various props were brought on stage or flown from the flyspace. The costumes were updated to the eighteenth century, giving the sense of an earlier time without resorting to the trite doublets and hose often used. All of this supported the music, which Villaume led with consummate style, attention to detail, and dramatic flair.

James L. Zychowicz

Seen and Heard apologises for the delayed posting of this review.

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