Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Houston Grand Opera Is a Gratifying Delight

This enchanting production runs through May 11

BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Houston Grand Opera Is a Gratifying Delight

As the curtain rises in Houston Grand Opera's production of Romeo and Juliet, Charles Gonoud's 1867 adaptation of the seminal Shakespeare play, the audience is transported into a realm of romance and passion, brought to life by the soaring score and gifted performers. Though devotees of the original play may note that Gonoud trims down elements of the original story to focus in on the two lovers, the story of their star-crossed romance is told with enough power and gravitas that those who invest in the central couple will be wiping away tears by the end.


The opera begins with a tweaked version of Shakespeare's opening speech ("Two households both alike in dignity..."), which more directly outlines where the story of our lovers will end. Immediately one is struck by the vocal quality of the chorus, who stand dimly lit with candles in hand to form a highly atmospheric wall of sound. This opening also sets up many of the changes that the opera makes to the original, focusing more on the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet's eventual deaths than the underlying feud between their two families.

BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Houston Grand Opera Is a Gratifying Delight
Photography credit: Lynn Lane

It seems Gonoud was all too eager to get to that particular point, as the next scene in the opera takes us straight to the Capulet Ball, where the two lovers meet and fall in love. There is much enjoyment to be had throughout this sequence, with Thomas Glass giving a charming and charismatic performance as Romeo's mercurial main man, Mercutio. Adriana González also has some fun with Juliet's jaunty celebration of youth, which is of course a way of masking her dissatisfaction with having to marry Paris.

BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Houston Grand Opera Is a Gratifying Delight
Adriana González and Michael Spyres in the famous
balcony scene.
Photography credit: Lynn Lane

It is at this point that the fated meeting between the titular couple finally takes place. Michael Spyres and Adriana González are sublime in their union, singing their hearts out as the two youths tumble madly in love and begin the chain of events that will ultimately lead to their demise. They are bolstered by the strong and supple orchestra, crooning out lilts and crescendos that amp the romance of the scene up to 11.

Of course, the laurel wreaths for this show are rightfully bestowed upon González, who is a tour-de-force as Juliet. Her anguish and indecision as she tries to commit to Friar Laurence's plan cut through the audience like a most unhappy dagger, harnessing all of the angst that has built around her and her new husband and gathering it into a climactic moment of resolution. A chorus of "brava" and "bravissima" echoed through the crowd when she took her bow, and she earned every single one.

Perhaps one of the most interesting differences between this piece and its source text is that rather than Juliet waking up after Romeo has died, such that they pass each other like two ships in the night, Gonoud actually gives the lovers a reunion scene before Romeo perishes. Not only that, but the poison that Romeo takes acts slowly enough that Juliet has time enough to stab herself with the dagger before he goes, allowing them to die together. This change does take a little of the spotlight off of Juliet, as she no longer gets to be the only living person onstage when she makes her final choice, but the tension in the bodies of González and Spyres as they struggle to hold onto one another for even one more moment wipes away any concerns I may have had.

BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Houston Grand Opera Is a Gratifying Delight
Adriana González and company.
Photography credit: Lynn Lane

I will admit that I prefer the original play to the opera: Shakespeare's use of dramatic tension and the complexities of his characters lend more pathos to the central romance, and in my opinion, the conflict between the warring families is far more interesting than the star-crossed love itself. However, this production nevertheless manages to nail the dramatic arc of the play, pleasing and delighting the audience as if it were a lighthearted comedy, before going in for the kill.

The choreography and design of the production is also resplendent, keeping the spirits up even as the audience remains aware that the romance is not headed for a happily-ever-after. Choreographer Tomer Zvulun has decorated sprites and lively dancers doing aerobic dance routines that serve to help maintain levity and joy. Meanwhile, Jon Conklin and Julia Noulin-Mérat construct a grand set that resembles the architecture of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. The costumes by Gregory Gale are equally sumptuous, a treat for the eyes that only adds to the production's grandeur.

BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Houston Grand Opera Is a Gratifying Delight
Adriana González and Michael Spyres in the final
scene of Romeo and Juliet.
Photography credit: Lynn Lane


Today, the title 'Romeo and Juliet' has, of course, become synonymous with romance, and this production zeroes in on that skillfully to render a decadent, delirious, and ultimately heartbreaking portrait of the perilous throes of young passion. For a night of soaring music and irrepressible feeling, put this show on your to-do list.


Romeo and Juliet is now running until May 11. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased at houstongrandopera.org.



Related Articles View More Houston Stories


From This Author - Luke Evans