The French opera Romeo and Juliet by Charles Gounod opened Opera Colorado’s 30th season Saturday, February 9 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver. The audience that included many young couples celebrating Valentine’s Day showed their love with a standing ovation.
The loudest cheering was for Ava Pine, the soprano star who made her Opera Colorado debut last year in The Marriage of Figaro. She is the ideal Juliet, who is only 14 in Shakespeare’s play—young, adorable and high-spirited. Pine's voice has strength and clarity and never falters. Her coloratura waltz in Act I "Je veux vivre dans ce rêve", one of the more familiar arias, shows youthful teenage joy. By contrast, her intense soliloquy in Act IV when she debates taking the potion is fraught with passion and drama. Pine has four duets with Romeo (Guiseppe Varano, in his OC debut) that include the famous balcony scene and their long duet before they die in each other’s arms.
The Italian tenor said he prepared his role by visiting the balcony in Verona from which Shakespeare got his inspiration for the romantic play.
The production opens with the large chorus singing a somber prologue introducing the story that is about to unfold. The libretto closely follows Shakespeare’s play, often to the exact wording. (English and Spanish translations are written on a screen in front of each seat at the opera house.) Opera Colorado deviates a tad from Gounod’s original opera by eliminating the ballet in Act IV that is essential in French opera, pairing the five-act production down to a manageable three hours, including two 20-minute intermissions.
Grammy-award winning baritone Daniel Belcher is perfectly cast as Mercutio, Romeo’s cynical friend who makes fun of romantic love. His feisty temper and loyalty to Romeo gets him killed by the sword, the story’s pivotal event that changes the lighthearted tone to tragic.
Stephen Morscheck is also well cast as Juliet’s father Capulet. His imposing height and deep basso cantata make him an ideal master of the house.
Kudos to lighting designer Paul Hackenmueller. Together with set designer R. Keith Brumley, they create scenes precisely as Shakespeare describes them. In Act II a dark blue hue casts a dreamy, romantic pall over the garden and balcony set with a full moon shining in the background (Thou know’st the mask of night is on my face and Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear). In Act IV they project the soft morning light beginning to shine through the windows and directly onto the bed where Romeo and Juliet wake and sing their duet about the lark and nightingale and whether it is daylight or nightlight. (It was the lark, the herald of the morn, says he; and Yon light is not day-light. . . It is some meteor that the sun exhales to be to thee this night a torch-bearer . . .says she). These two sets are simply breathtaking and add immensely to the overall production.
Patrons are asked to make contributions during intermissions and after the show to Opera Colorado’s campaign called “Stories that Sing” to raise a needed $1.2 million by the end of March so it can continue producing opera for the Denver region. For more information, visit www.operacolorado.org/support or call 303-778-7086.
Remaining performances of Romeo and Juliet are Tuesday, Feb. 12 and Friday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 17 at 2 p.m.. Tickets are available online at www.operacolorado.org and by phone at 303-468-2030.