BWW Review: Angelic Voices Brings the Sunrise to ROMEO AND JULIET at OPERA BIRMINGHAM
French composer Charles Gounod composed the romantic opera 'Romeo and Juliet" in 1867. The opera is sung in French, and assisted with an overhead projection of the English subtitles. For those who are familiar with the classic love story the subtitles were not necessary to fully enjoy the performance. Thanks to my English teacher back at Montgomery Blair High School Mrs. Turner, I am one of those familiar with this Shakespeare classic. In fact, frequently looking at the English translation projected high above the stage took me out of the magic of the moment. There is a real pleasure in enjoying amazing voices telling a story in a language you do not know, and still be able to understand the emotion conveyed. Opera Birmingham provided such a performance. If you are unfamiliar with the story of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, it is the grandmother of all "Boy meets girl" stories. It's packed with political discourse, tragedy and mostly love. Love between two people who will not let the wall built by society keep them from each other.
This opera held a natural progression. Even with an intermission, the performance did not feel lengthy. Alabama Symphony Orchestra led by Steven White performed with much energy. The opening was greeted with long banners of each house hanging from above the orchestra. Crimson red for the Capulets and a cobalt blue for the Montagues. The orchestra positioned behind the performers complemented their emotional deliveries. Each singer took full advantage of the stage in both body and voice. The orchestra began with a racing composition with a thunderous charge. It felt as if horses were about to bind across the stage pulling a chariot. The orchestra never lost its momentum or tune.
On each entrance the work of costumer Mary Gurney was a highlight to the singers. The cast was dressed in vibrant period attire in the colors of each house. This visual component aided in discerning who was who. Director Dona D. Vaughn stacked this production with an abundance of intrigue, romance and tragedy. She took care to insure the audience had time to absorb the emotions without jumping ahead or slowing things down. It was an even mix that played well in the singers favor. The incredible voices produced a literal audio roller coaster that everyone was buckled into. The singers were animated but not over the top. The stage combat was a bit clunky at times. Truth be told it was a minor misstep in the overall production. The minimal sets successfully translated various locations with smooth transitions and appearance.
Tenor James Valenti delivered a robust voice and stoic presence to the role of Romeo. Valenti has a towering resemblance to actor Christopher Reeve. This comparison can also be made to his powerful voice that soared as if it was from the planet Krypton. Soprano Melinda Whittington gave Juliet a soft vulnerability and youthful fearlessness. Her voice and performance was full of emotion and relatability. She sang beautifully as love struck adolescent with an old soul sensibility. The duets they shared made for some touching moments of love, tragedy and hope.
Bass Won Cho's booming voice filed the hall with every note as both Friar Lawrence and the Duke. Mezzo Soprano Kathryne Overturf as Gertrude was a scene-stealer. Not only with a solid vocal performance but also with polished charm and physical comedy. Baritone Alex DeSocio channeled an incredible personality and essence to the role of Mercutio. He was energetic, whimsical and sang with an equally expressive voice.
The stellar cast included David Tayloe (Tybalt), Daniel Seigel (Paris), Cory Schantz (Count Capulet), Drew Duncan (Gregorio), Paul Wolf (Benvolio), Alyssa martin (Stephano), Christopher Farley (Friar Jean). The ensemble was rounded out with Opera Birmingham Chorus. Opera Birmingham produced Romeo and Juliet as a wonderfully entertaining evening of song and theater Impressive theatrical production and vocal quality are a true highlight to expect from this company.
Romeo and Juliet
Fri March 23 and Sat March 25
Samford University Wright Center
72 Montague Drive, Birmingham, AL 35229
Photo Credit: Stewart Edmonds