Roméo and Juliette ring in the New Year at the Metropolitan Opera

Roméo and Juliette ring in the New Year at the Metropolitan Opera
Roméo and Juliette ring in the New Year at the Metropolitan Opera

Every great opera begins with a great overture, a musical piece serving to introduce the themes of the opera. As far as epic expositions go, Gounod’s preface to the classic tale plays like a soundtrack foreshadowing a tumultuous journey, the culmination of which is inescapable doom. Leading the sprightly Metropolitan Opera was Maestro Gianandrea Noseda. A veteran of the podium, Maestro Noseda rode the orchestra like a chariot ablaze; his baton flying in the air like a whip wielding the immense power of such an experienced ensemble. He handled the musicians with authority and great care; at times, bridling their strength to accentuate the purity of innocent young love.

The star-crossed lovers were sung by Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo who arrived at the Metropolitan Opera like intergalactic comets! Surpassing stardom, these two carried us into the New Year sizzling with a fervor rarely seen at the Metropolitan Opera. Sparks flew between the two in their first duet, Ange adorable… Their embers grew into a flame that intensified with every meeting.

Diana Damrau stepped into the shoes of the young Juliette for the first time. Her role debut brought an earnestness of character first apparent in her joyful aria, Je veux vivre! Her voice moved with ease through the scalar ornaments and her acting was fresh, soft and endearing – never forced. Damrau’s Poison aria was equally dazzling but with a maturity that carried the weight of the decision she had yet to make. Hope of seeing her exiled lover gave her the courage to plunge herself into the uncertain slumber.

Vittorio Grigolo was easily believable as the young Roméo. His stage presence was energetic, restless and unfocussed as adolescents often are. However, having caught the sight of a frolicking Juliette, he stood motionless as he sang “Ah, voyez! Cette beaute celeste…” (Ah behold this celestial beauty!) She grounded Romeo and focused his energy on one task; making Juliette his wife. Grigolo’s first aria Ah lève-toi soleil received thunderous applause which was well deserved. This was the beginning of what would be a pristine performance.

Roméo and Juliette ring in the New Year at the Metropolitan Opera
Roméo and Juliette ring in the New Year at the Metropolitan Opera

As impressive as the two leads were, this was far from a two person show. Casting throughout the supporting roles was very strong. Diego Silva sang a fiery Tybalt, oozing with hatred for Roméo and the Montague family. While convincing as the ruthless Tybalt, his singing boasted a distinct timbre which may aid him in future pursuits of the lead role. David Crawford sang well as Paris, Juliette’s betrothed. Laurent Naouri was poised as Capulet and sang with an elegant legato befitting his station.

Elliot Madore sang Mercutio. His tremendously difficult aria, Mab! La reine des mensonges was a great success and sang audaciously during his second act duel with Tybalt. Mikhail Petrenko was a calming presence in the role of Frere Laurent while Viginie Verrez stirred up trouble as the eager prepubescent Stephano. Diana Montague and Jeonhcheol Cha sang the maternal Gertrude and Gregorio, Montague’s companion, respectively.

Rounding out the cast was Oren Gradus and Tony Stevenson. Gradus made a dramatic entrance as the Duke of Verona while Stevenson was a fine Benvolio.

The stage came to life with a multi-leveled palace and columns designed by Michael Yeargen. Costumes by Catherine Zuber were mostly period with a bit of flair for the leading lady. Choreography and combat scenes were coordinated by Chase Brock and B.H. Barry while Bartlett Sher’s production was illuminated by the talents of lighting designer Jennifer Tipton.

Roméo et Juliette is a must see. Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo breathe new life into this classic Shakespearean tragedy. Their complete immersion as actors creates an opportunity to experience the lovers’ ecstasy one moment and drown in their pain the next.

You can see Roméo et Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera through March 18th, 2017.

Nicholas Wiggins