Review: Sierra, Bernheim Soar in the Met's ROMEO ET JULIETTE

A Rapturous Take on Shakespeare’s Doomed Lovers, under Nezet-Seguin, Well Supported by Hankey, Liverman, Walker

By: Mar. 10, 2024
Review: Sierra, Bernheim Soar in the Met's ROMEO ET JULIETTE
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While I’ve admired soprano Nadine Sierra’s before, she seemed to reach a whole new level with her glorious turn as Juliette in the season’s first performance of Gounod’s ROMEO ET JULIETTE at the Met the other night. She was vivid and a delight to watch as she inhabited the teenaged heroine of the piece and sounded wonderful, in "Je veux vivre," better known as Juliette's Waltz, and throughout the work.

Perhaps it was her stage partner, French tenor Benjamin Bernheim, who egged her on to such heights, with his nuanced singing (in "Ah, leve-toi soleil!" and elsewhere) and boyish demeanor. He perfectly balanced her seemingly girlish charms in a full-blown portrayal that, at heart, was not girlish in the least. Though the production opened with a starry cast in 2016, the two principals here seemed to bring a life to it that Shakespeare might have envisioned (but rarely gets) in a youthful cast.

The evening as a whole was filled with fine singing and a performance from the Met Orchestra under music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin that made the opera’s combination of romance and swordplay thrilling to hear as well as watch. The Met’s chorus was wonderful as ever, in Donald Palumbo’s capable hands, central to the storytelling from beginning to end.

The two most notables supporting players seemed luxury casting in roles that made significant impressions though they seemed to come and disappear in a flash.

Mezzo Samantha Hankey was a supernova as she took her opportunity to glisten in the evening’s firmament as Stephano in the defiant “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?” which set off the chain of tragic events the evening had ahead for us. Baritone Will Liverman’s ability to take a character role—here, the ill-fated Mercutio—and turn it into a showpiece is stunning. While he’s had his chance in starring roles, in FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES and X, it is these cameos (including a turn in Rene Orth’s 10 DAYS IN A MADHOUSE) that made me sit up and take notice.

The formidable mezzo Eve Gigliotti did very nicely indeed as Gertrude, Juliette’s nurse, while bass-baritone Alfred Walker—so good last summer in Saint-Saens’ HENRY VIII at BardSummerscape—made the most here of Frere Laurent, brought gravitas to a key role. Other supporting players worth noting were tenor Frederick Ballentine’s Tybalt, bass-baritone Nathan Berg’s Capulet and bass Richard Bernstein’s Duke of Verona.

I wish I like the look of the production better, though Sher’s ideas (staged by Gina Lapinski this time around) appeared no better or worse than they were when they were new. The unit set by Michael Yeargan, with Jennifer Tipton’s lighting, of the streets of Verona was gray and dreary, as if, I suppose, readying us for the tragedy to come. He partially made up for it with the smart use of vignettes essential to the quick change of scenes, such as the chapel where (SPOILER ALERT!) the lovers die. Catherine Zuber’s costuming was better, especially with the ethereal wardrobe for Sierra’s Juliette and in the ball at the Capulets. The choreography by Chase Brock and, notably, fight direction by BH Barry did much to set the performers in action.

ROMEO ET JULIETTE will be performed with the same cast through the 1pm matinee on March 30. For more information on times and tickets, see the Met’s website.

Caption: Benjamin Bernheim and Nadine Sierra in the title roles.

Credit: Marty Sohl/Met Opera


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