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BWW Review: Lyric Opera's ROMEO AND JULIET Presents a Grand-scale, Classic Interpretation of Shakespeare's Eternal Love Story

Under the direction of Bartlett Sher (whose work is currently represented on Broadway with Lincoln Center Theater's revival of The King and I, Charles Gounod's 1867 French opera ROMEO AND JULIET comes to opulent, dramatic life--with the quality and grandiosity that characterize Lyric Opera's productions. This production of Gounod's opera--with libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré and which was first performed at the Lyric in 1981--retains the original Renaissance setting of Shakespeare's classic play and renders it larger-than-life. The inherently dramatic nature of the play makes it a fitting choice for an operatic adaptation--Romeo and Juliet's tragic love story becomes even more heightened when set to Gounod's decadent score.

The opening sequence finds an ensemble of dozens of singers on-stage (many of whom seldom occupy the stage again), decked out in Catherine Zuber's elaborate and often period-authentic costumes, coming together to deliver the operatic version of Shakespeare's prologue as one large, looming chorus. This sets a dark tone for Sher's production from the outset, reminding audiences of the tragic outcome they likely already know well. And yet, in this moment, I hoped for just a bit more spark of creativity--the production's vision for ROMEO AND JULIET hems very closely to Shakespeare's original play. When Susanna Phillips as Juliet rushes onto the stage in a voluminous pink gown, though, we discover the most compelling reason to visit this ROMEO AND JULIET: Sher's cast is filled with impeccable voices. In her initial moments, Phillips soars in each and every one of Juliet's high notes with ease. And when Joseph Calleja as Romeo (at performances through March 8) joins her in their first duet, it's no less than pure joy to hear.

Phillips and Calleja are surrounded by equally talented vocalists. Marianne Crebassa's performance as Romeo's servant Stephano--her Act Three solo is both an auditory and comedic highlight. Crebassa's vocals are a delight to hear, and she has great comedic acting chops as well. As Juliet's nurse Gertrude, Deborah Nansteel also delivers a strong vocal performance. Jason Slayden as Tybalt, Takaoki Onishi as Count Paris, Philip Horst as Lord Capulet, Joshua Hopkins as Mercutio, and Christian Van Horn as Friar Lawrence are also vocal stand-outs in this production. Together, these performers all bring the dramatic tension in ROMEO AND JULIET to new heights with their vocal deliveries.

This operatic staging of ROMEO AND JULIET is filled with vocal mastery. The inevitable tragic end for the opera's central couple feels all the more tragic in the hands of the production's capable singers.

Lyric Opera's ROMEO AND JULIET runs through March 19. Tickets are $20-$369 and are available online at, by phone at 312.827.5600, or in-person at the Box Office at the Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker Drive.

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

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From This Author Rachel Weinberg